Openly gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) was honored by the Los Angeles-based Stonewall Democratic Club on Sunday. Before he accepted his Elected Official of the Year Award and left to visit his family in the San Diego area, I got a chance to ask him a few questions about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the fixes to the healthcare reform bill.
Polis said that an inclusive ENDA is expected to come up for a vote on the House floor in the next few weeks where it will pass by a substantial margin. The problem, he said, is the US Senate. He also said he expects President Obama will use the bully pulpit to bring ENDA to his desk.
(I’ll have more from the Stonewall Democratic Club event later – including Clever Jones’ fiery speech and ally Christine Pelosi’s optimism.)
KO: Where are we on ENDA?
JP: We have the votes to pass ENDA in the House and we hope to bring it before the committee I serve on – the Education Labor Committee – within the month – by the end of April. And then, once it passes the committee, it shouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks – a week or two – to schedule it for the floor. It’s just a scheduling matter.
We think we would have passed it by now if it wasn’t for healthcare taking up much of the workload of our committee.
I don’t know about the Senate – but in the House, we expect to pass out substantially. It has substantial support. The Senate requires 60 votes so it’s a matter of getting some Republican moderates to support it.
KO: Will Obama use bully pulpit and will you nudge him along on ENDA?
JP: I think President Obama played a constructive role in helping bring hate crimes to his desk and I think he’ll play a similar role in helping to get ENDA to his desk.
KO: What are the talking points to pass ENDA?
JP: In terms of tying it into a jobs message – it’s certainly about security about jobs, about a society that’s free from discrimination. Of course, many states already have inclusive ENDA. California has an inclusive ENDA, I believe and so does Colorado, by the way – my state. So it won’t make a difference, per se, in those states. But in areas of the country where gays and lesbians face the most discrimination, it will make a big difference.
KO: What About Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
JP: I certainly advocate repealing it as soon as possible. There’s many other people in the House who feel that way. We’re up to close to 190 co-sponsors of Patrick Murphy’s bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I think the sooner we repeal it the better. It’s the military’s position that they want to complete the study first.
KO: You don’t think we need the study?
JP: No, of course not. It’s been studied and it’s an obvious and easy call to make: we should have ended this policy years ago.
KO: Do you think there should be a reprimand for the Marine leader who said he’d set up separate barracks if DADT is repealed?
JP: Well, he can’t have separate barracks – but obviously he enjoys the Freedom of Speech to express his personal views. But he can’t actually issue a command that would do that.
We’ve had a number of officers who’ve come out in favor of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that’s the same as if some officers in their individual capacity come out in support of it or wanting separate barracks. They can express their opinions as long as it’s clear they’re not expressing the official opinion of the US military.
[No reprimand] unless he violated any military protocols for expressing his opinions. I am not aware that he did – but if he did, he should be held responsible.
KO: What do you think of the latest changes to the policy?
JP: The latest changes are very minor and the truth of the matter is gays and lesbians are still not allowed to serve openly in our military. So yes – you can mention it to your doctor in an exam and he won’t report it now. But you still can’t be openly gay and serve in the military so it doesn’t change the reality that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is making our military weaker every day that it exists.
KO: Any new bills on the horizon?
JP: I’m the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimination Act that would prevent discrimination against gay and lesbian students. We’re up to dozens of co-sponsors and we’re hoping to include this in the No Child Left Behind re-authorization to help protect kids in our public schools. The bill is being carried by Al Franken in the Senate.
KO: What about a House sponsor for Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill extending COBRA to domestic partners?
JP: If it starts showing momentum in the Senate, then it’ll be introduced in the House. We’ll certainly take a look at it.
KO: What about fixes to the Healthcare Reform bill to reinstate LGBT provisions stripped from the bill?
JP: The historic healthcare reform package is the starting point for future reforms. Had it failed, we wouldn’t be talking about healthcare reform for another decade or two. Having passed, it’s only the beginning. I’m going to continue to fight for a public option, I’m going to continue to fight for LGBT provisions and many other improvements that we can make along the way.
KO: This year?
JP: I don’t know if much else will happen on healthcare this year. But certainly there will be many changes going forward. But we just passed it and Congress is very excited to move on to other topics – including ENDA and job creation. And we will continue to work on improving the healthcare bill.
KO: Any predictions about the 2010 elections?
JP: I’m not a political pundit – I’m just an elected official and I focus on education reform. I just hope to win my seat again for another two years and I’m working hard to do it.