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Portman, Merkley to Discuss ENDA

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, will meet next week with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the lead sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to discuss the legislation for the first time, CQ Roll Call has learned.

Portman, the first Republican senator to support gay marriage, has not yet come out in favor of the bill that would prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. The legislation passed out of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday with the support of three GOP members and is expected to get a full Senate vote after August recess.

Portman told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview that he will meet next week with Merkley and that contrary to some reports, he had not done so already.

“I’m adamantly opposed to discrimination in the workplace against people who are gay. So I have no philosophical concerns with this legislation at all. My concern with it is one, some of the policy issues, like the religious liberty stuff, and because I am not on the [HELP] committee, I have not been in a position to look through it yet.

“We have some Republicans who are for it, but it’s never going to get done … unless it’s bipartisan. And so I want to try to work with Sen. Merkley and others to see whether some of these concerns can be addressed. The other concern I hear all the time from Republicans, obviously, is on the litigation issues,” Portman continued. “There’s concerns if you put in place legislation that creates significantly more litigation, you’ll get a lot of business community and Republican opposition, so we’ll talk about that. But I’m interested in getting something done, obviously. I think this is one of those examples where we should be able to get something through the process.”

Republicans Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Orrin G. Hatch of Utah joined Democrats on Wednesday to approve the legislation out of committee, 15-7. In addition, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who does not sit on the panel, is a Republican co-sponsor of the bill.

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