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  • Drug Quality and Security Act—Motion to Proceed

    by Senator Jeff Merkley

    Posted on 2013-11-06

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    Read More about Drug Quality and Security Act--Motion to Proceed

    MERKLEY. Mr. President, I so much appreciate the comments of my colleague from Delaware, first speaking to the importance of rebuilding our manufacturing sector, of creating living-wage jobs and how important that is to building the middle class and providing the foundation for families to thrive, and then speaking to the core issue we are debating today, that of ending significant discrimination against millions of American citizens. His words were well spoken, I say to the Senator from Delaware, and I thank him for his advocacy that will make this Nation work better for so many of our fellow citizens.

    This issue of freedom from discrimination is a core issue of freedom. It is a core issue of liberty. It goes right to the heart of the founding of this country. Our Founders were often chafing under the heavy hand from the land they came from across the ocean, and they wanted to be able to forge their own world where they would be able to participate fully in society. So liberty and freedom became right at the heart of our founding documents.

    Our Declaration of Independence says in its second paragraph: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

    That concept of liberty was echoed when we went to our U.S. Constitution. It started out saying, as Americans are well aware: We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

    We, the people, sought in that year to establish a more perfect union, and we continue in our pursuit of a more perfect union--one with more complete blessings of liberty.

    What, indeed, is liberty? That opportunity to participate fully in our society. This was well captured by President Lyndon Baines Johnson. He was speaking in 1965 to Howard University students at their commencement, and President Johnson said: Freedom is the right to share fully and equally in American society; to vote, to hold a job, to enter a public place, to go to school.

    President Johnson continued: It is the right to be treated in every part of our national life as a person equal in dignity and promise to all others.

    I think President Johnson captured well what freedom and liberty are all about, as have many of our major public citizens over time as they sought to examine this core premise of liberty and freedom and what it meant in this Nation, what it meant to create a more perfect union in this regard.

    Eleanor Roosevelt spent a lot of time talking about human rights. She said: Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person, the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends, the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

    Indeed, today we are very much talking about the factory, farm, and office Eleanor Roosevelt spoke about, where, if rights do not have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

    It has been long recognized that the opportunity to thrive for the individual is so fundamental to this notion of liberty and freedom, and it is also a powerful force for the good of our Nation as a whole. This is well captured by Theodore Roosevelt. He said: Practical equality of opportunity for all citizens, when we achieve it, has two great results. First, every man will have a fair chance to make of himself all that in him lies, to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own, unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him; to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned.

    Theodore Roosevelt continued: Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable. No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

    Theodore Roosevelt was speaking in the masculine, but he was talking about all citizens--men and women--equality of opportunity for the individual and for the benefit of society.

    Senator Ted Kennedy summarized this concept much more succinctly. He did so on August 5, 2009, when the bill that is before this body was introduced in that year, the 2009 version. He said: The promise of America will never be fulfilled as long as justice is denied to even one among us.

    So, again, the success of the individual in gaining full access to liberty and freedom, full opportunity to participate in society, builds a stronger community, a stronger State, and a stronger Nation.

    The bill we have before us today is a simple concept: That an individual can pursue that place on the farm or in the factory or in the office without discrimination; that the LGBT citizen has full opportunity to fulfill their potential in the workplace.

    Religious groups from across America have weighed in to say how important and valuable that is. Here is a sign-on letter--a letter that is signed by approximately 60 religious groups across America. It is addressed to each of us in this Chamber.

    Dear Senator: On behalf of our organizations, representing a diverse group of faith traditions and religious beliefs, we urge you to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As a nation, we cannot tolerate arbitrary discrimination against millions of Americans just because of who they are. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people should be able to earn a living, provide for their families, and contribute to our society without fear that who they are or who they love could cost them a job. ENDA is a measured, commonsense solution that will ensure workers are judged on their merits, not on their personal characteristics like sexual orientation or gender identity. We call on you to pass this important legislation without delay.

    This letter from these roughly 60 religious organizations continues: Many of our religious texts speak to the important and sacred nature of work . . . and demand in the strongest possible terms the protection of all workers as a matter of justice. Our faith leaders and congregations grapple with the difficulties of lost jobs every day, particularly in these difficult economic times. It is indefensible that, while sharing every American's concerns about the health of our economy, LGBT workers must also fear for their job security for reasons completely unrelated to their job performance.

    Our faith traditions, the letter continues, hold different and sometimes evolving beliefs about the nature of human sexuality and marriage as well as gender identity and gender expression, but we can all agree on the fundamental premise that every human being is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect in the workplace. In addition, any claims that ENDA harms religious liberty are misplaced. ENDA broadly exempts from its scope houses of worship as well as religiously affiliated organizations. This exemption--which covers the same religious organizations already exempted from the religious discrimination provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964--should ensure that religious freedom concerns don't hinder the passage of this critical legislation.

    Then this letter concludes: We urge Congress to swiftly pass the Employment Non- Discrimination Act so that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans have an equal opportunity to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families.

    I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the sign-on list associated with this letter.

    There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows: Sincerely, Affirmation--Gay and Lesbian Mormons, African American Ministers in Action, American Conference of Cantors, American Jewish Committee, Anti-Defamation League, The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, Bend the Arc Jewish Action B'nai B'rith International, Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests Call To Action, Central Conference of American Rabbis, [[Page S7858]] DignityUSA, Disciples Home Missions, The Episcopal Church, Equally Blessed, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, The Evangelical Network, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Global Faith & Justice Project, Horizons Foundation.

    The Global Justice Institute, Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc., Hindu American Foundation, The Interfaith Alliance, Integrity USA, Islamic Society of North America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Jewish Labor Committee, Jewish Women International, Keshet, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Metropolitan Community Churches, More Light Presbyterians, Mormons for Equality Mormons Building Bridges, Muslims for Progressive Values, Nehirim, New Ways Ministry, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Progressive National Baptist Convention.

    The Rabbinical Assembly, Reconcilng Works, Lutherans for Full Participation, The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Religious Institute, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), Sojourners, Soulforce, Tru'ah Union for Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ, Office for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Ministries United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries, United Methodist, General Board of Church and Society, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), Women of Reform Judaism.

    Mr. MERKLEY. Thank you, Mr. President. This is a list that Americans will well be familiar with, including Methodist groups, Lutheran groups, Jewish groups, and so on and so forth, from the spectrum of Protestant religions, Christian religions, and other religions. It is powerful and helpful that they have written to share their perspectives, and I thank them for doing so.

    Business coalitions have also weighed in. I have here a letter from the Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness. Their letter is much shorter. It is signed by approximately 120 companies. I will read it for my colleagues now. It says: The majority of United States businesses have already started addressing workplace fairness for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees. But we need a federal standard that treats all employees the same way.

    The Business Coalition for Workplace Fairness is a group of leading U.S. employers that support the Employment Non- Discrimination Act, a federal bill that would provide the same basic protections that are already afforded to workers across the country.

    Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender employees are not protected under federal law from being fired, refused work or otherwise discriminated against. ENDA would do just that.

    These are companies that include American Eagle Outfitters to Morgan Stanley, Charles Schwab to Nike, General Mills to Xerox, and Hilton Worldwide to Apple, and so on and so forth.

    Speaking of Apple, it might be interesting to hear the perspectives of the CEO of Apple, Tim Cook. He wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, and here is what he had to say. This was published, by the way, on November 3, just a few days ago. He said: Long before I started work as the CEO of Apple, I became aware of a fundamental truth: People are much more willing to give of themselves when they feel that their selves are being fully recognized and embraced.

    At Apple, we try to make sure people understand that they don't have to check their identity at the door. We're committed to creating a safe and welcoming workplace for all employees, regardless of their race, gender, nationality or sexual orientation.

    As we see it, embracing people's individuality is a matter of basic human dignity and civil rights.

    Tim Cook continues: It also turns out to be great for the creativity that drives our business. We've found that when people feel valued for who they are, they have the comfort and confidence to do the best work of their lives.

    Apple's antidiscrimination policy goes beyond the legal protections U.S. workers currently enjoy under federal law, most notably because we prohibit discrimination against Apple's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees.

    A bill now before the U.S. Senate-- Of course, this bill we are currently debating-- would update those employment laws, at long last, to protect workers against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

    We urge Senators to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act, and we challenge the House of Representatives to bring it to the floor for a vote.

    Protections that promote equality and diversity should not be conditional on someone's sexual orientation. For too long, too many people have had to hide that part of their identity in the workplace.

    Those who have suffered discrimination have paid the greatest price for this lack of legal protection. But ultimately we all pay a price.

    If our coworkers cannot be themselves in the workplace, they certainly cannot be their best selves. When that happens, we undermine people's potential and deny ourselves and our society the full benefits of those individuals' talents.

    So long as the law remains silent on the workplace rights of gay and lesbian Americans, we as a nation are effectively consenting to discrimination against them.

    Congress should seize the opportunity to strike a blow against such intolerance by approving the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.

    Again, that is a letter from Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, published in the Wall Street Journal.

    So we see this long arch in pursuit of a vision of liberty and freedom, from our early settlers of North America, to the Declaration of Independence, to the opening words of our U.S. Constitution, to our leaders through a scope of time who recognized the power of liberty in fulfilling the potential of the individual and the potential of the Nation, to our current religious leaders and our current business leaders. It is time we take another bold stride in this long journey toward freedom and liberty for all Americans. In that regard, I urge all of my colleagues to support this legislation before us. It will make a difference in millions of lives, and it will make a difference in the strength and character of our Nation.

    Thank you.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Coons). The Senator from Iowa.

    Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I spoke at some length on this bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the other day, but as we move to end debate on the bill itself, I want to once again express the critical nature of the bill for ensuring equality in the workplace for all Americans.

    I was just on the floor listening to Senator Merkley's very poignant remarks, and I want everyone to know that we would not be here at this point in time with this bill before us ready for passage tomorrow were it not for the leadership and the persistence of Senator Merkley from Oregon. He has been a champion of this issue since he served in the Oregon Legislature, and when he first came here he became a champion of this bill. He truly picked up the mantle of Senator Ted Kennedy in picking this bill out from sort of the ashes of 1996, the last time-- the only time--we ever had a vote.

    I say through the Chair to my friend from Oregon, we thank you for your doggedness on this issue and for working across the aisle, on both sides of the aisle, to bring it first to our committee and then getting it through the committee and now on the floor.

    Again, I want the record to show that it was Senator Merkley who really spearheaded this effort, along with Senator Mark Kirk on the Republican side. The two of them fought very hard to get us to this point and to make sure we were actually debating it. So we are greatly indebted to the distinguished Senator from Oregon for his leadership on this issue.

    We had an incredible vote the other night that demonstrated more clearly than anything I can say that the Members of this body believe in the message of equality and fairness that is embodied in this bill. The commitment and good faith with which Members have negotiated and offered amendments has been a tribute to the Senate. What we are seeing here is how the Senate ought to work. This is sort of the Senate at its best. We can do business here and get important work done when we share a commitment to fairness and when we act in a spirit of compromise and good will.

    I listened to the Senator from Oregon, who so eloquently pointed out that too many of our citizens are being judged not by what they can contribute to a business or an organization but by who they are or whom they choose to love. Well, the Senate is poised to take an important step toward changing that.

    Quite frankly, I say with all candor, I think the American people have gotten way ahead of us on this one. The American people--a great majority--believe in the right of an individual to earn a living free from discrimination and to be judged in the workplace [[Page S7859]] based on their integrity, their ability, and their qualifications. This bill ensures that the same basic employment protections against discrimination that already protect American workers on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and disability also apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans.

    It is rare to have before us a bill with such broad and deep support. ENDA is supported by some 60 faith-based organizations, including congregations and organizations varying from the Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal Church to the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the Union of Reform Judaism, the Union Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Islamic Society of North America.

    A poll showed that 76 percent of American Catholics support basic workplace protections for gay and transgender workers, and in the same poll almost 70 percent of evangelical Christians support employment protections for LGBT persons.

    Over 100 businesses support the bill, everything from Pfizer, Levi Strauss, to Hershey, Capital One, Alcoa, Marriott Hotels, InterContinental Hotels, Texas Instruments, and on and on.

    Seventy-four percent of Fortune 100 companies and nearly 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies already have sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination policies in place.

    In the course of our committee hearings on this bill, we heard from executives of Nike and General Mills, who both testified that ``ENDA is good for business.'' A Nike representative told the committee: Teams thrive in an open and welcoming work environment, where individuals are bringing their full selves to work.

    Since the Senate last considered a version of this bill in 1996, 17 States--and I am proud to say, including my State of Iowa--have put legislation in place that includes these basic employment protections for LGBT citizens. Those laws have been implemented seamlessly and have not led to any significant increase in litigation. But certainly that is not to say what we are doing here is not necessary. The majority of Americans--56.6 percent--still live in States where it is perfectly legal to fire someone or refuse to hire them because of who they are--a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender American.

    Discrimination in the workplace is real. Forty-two percent of LGBT workers report having experienced some form of discrimination at work. Seven percent reported having lost a job as a result of their sexual orientation. Far too many hard-working Americans continue to be judged not by their ability and their qualifications but by their sexual orientation or gender identity.

    I talked the other day about Sam Hall, a West Virginia miner who faced destruction of his property and verbal harassment from his workers because of his identity as a gay person. Sam is one of those millions of Americans who have no legal recourse without the law. I also talked about Kylar Broadus, who faced intense harassment at work as he transitioned from female to male and who has never recovered financially. I talked about Allyson Robinson, who was forced to live in a different State, apart from her family, because she could not find a job as an openly transgender female. This law will make a real difference for these Americans and for millions more like them.

    I remember 23 years ago I stood at this podium, at this desk, as the sponsor of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as the chair then of the Subcommittee on Disability Policy. Senator Kennedy was the chair at that time. I talked about the necessity for the Americans with Disabilities Act in terms of a courthouse door.

    I pointed out that as of that time, if you were an African American or a woman or let's say you were Jewish and you went down to get a job for which you were fully qualified and the employer said: I'm not hiring Black people; I don't hire Black people; I don't like you; get out of here; I don't hire Jews; get out of here, you could leave there and go right down the street to the courthouse, and the courthouse door was open to you because in 1964 we passed the Civil Rights Act that covered people that way. We said: You have recourse under law for violations of your inherent civil rights based on sex, national origin, religion, race.

    But, as of 1990, if you were a person with a disability and you went down to the prospective employer to get a job for which you were fully qualified and the prospective employer said: Get out of here; I don't hire cripples; get out of here, and you wheeled your wheelchair down the street to the courthouse, the doors were locked. You had no recourse under law for that violation of your civil rights because it was not a civil right. So in 1990 we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, and now the courthouse door is open. If you are discriminated against because of your disability, you can go down to the courthouse. You have the law on your side.

    I stand here today, 23 years later, saying that we have covered civil rights laws in this country for almost everyone--except for those for whom gender identity or sexual orientation is part of who they are. That is true.

    As I pointed out, we have reams of records here: people fired because they were gay or lesbian--not because they could not do the job, not because they were not doing their job, they were fired just because of who they were. Guess what. That gay person walked down to that courthouse door. It was locked. It was locked, just as it was for people with disabilities before 1990, just as it was for African Americans before 1964, and for women.

    I mean these young people working here, these young women, they do not realize in the lifetime of their parents, at least their grandparents anyway, you could fire someone because she was a woman or not hire someone because she was a woman. Guess what. The courthouse door was locked. You had no recourse.

    Some States passed civil rights laws. So we had some States pass civil rights laws. As I said, we have 17 States in America that do have laws on the books that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But how about the rest of the States? As I said, over 56 percent of American workers live in States in which there is no protection.

    So in the long march of the American experiment, from the time of our founding and the Bill of Rights, from our Declaration of Independence which said ``all people are created equal,'' step-by-step, step-by- step, sometimes long, painfully--sometimes too long and too painfully-- we have expanded this covenant to bring more people into the American family to recognize that people should not be judged on the basis of some externalities such as the color of their skin or their sex or their religion or national origin or disability or whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

    Everyone should have these civil rights, to be covered by civil rights so they will be judged on their contribution to society, by what they do, not by who they are. That is why this vote is so important. That is why this is a historic step again for the Senate.

    You could look back and, yes, there were people who opposed the civil rights bill in 1964. We had people here that opposed the Americans with Disabilities Act. But look back and see what they did for America. We are a stronger and a better country because of those laws that were passed, much better for everyone--for everyone, for our families, for the elderly, for everyone.

    I hope that those who may be thinking: Gee, I do not want to support this; I am not a big fan of gay people or I may have some religious problems on that, we have religious exceptions in here. That is not the issue. The issue is whether that should be an allowable reason to be discriminated against in employment. As I said, we have said before that is not a legitimate reason for race, sex, national origin or disability; why should it be a reason based upon your sexual orientation or gender identity? I hope my fellow Senators will think about what they would have done had they been here to vote on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What if they had been here just 23 years ago to vote on the Americans with Disabilities Act? This Employment Non-Discrimination Act takes its place alongside all of those. That is why it is such a historically important vote. The bill's sponsors, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Mark Kirk, Senator Tammy Baldwin, Senator Susan Collins, have worked [[Page S7860]] long and hard. They have worked closely with us in the committee over the last few days to continue to build support for this bill, to work through proposals to change and improve the bill.

    We are finishing the debate tomorrow. We will have the final vote on this bill. Passing it with a resounding majority will send a clear message to the American people and to the House of Representatives that we have waited long enough. Think about this. This bill failed by only one vote in 1996--one vote. So here we are 27 years later. It is time to pass this. It is time now to end workplace discrimination against any member of our American family based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Texas.

    Health Care Reform Mr. CORNYN. Mr. President, I mentioned yesterday in my remarks on the floor that the Obama administration has had 3\1/2\ years to prepare for the rollout of the President's signature health care law. It has had 3\1/2\ years to get the Web site right and ready for its big debut. It has had 3\1/2\ years to take all of the necessary safeguards to protect privacy and the integrity of the Internet, particularly the Web site, and make sure it is not ripe for identity theft and other cyber attacks.

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