Obama: ENDA vote in Senate an 'opportunity'

President Obama hailed Monday’s 61-30 vote to advance the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as a “return to common sense” during a dinner for top Organizing for Action donors.

"Slowly, surely, we're starting to see a some common sense starting to prevail,” the president said. “It hasn't quite gotten over the hump, but you're starting to see it in the Senate in particular where we had already gotten the vote on immigration reform. Bipartisan vote, it's ready to go.”

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The bill, which would forbid employers from firing workers based on sexual orientation and gender identity, garnered seven Republican supporters in a procedural vote to move toward final passage. 

Obama said the likely passage of the Senate bill was an “opportunity,” while warning it could be a uphill battle in the Republican-controlled House.

“I want everybody to understand that change in America's always been slow, and sometimes we take a step back for every two steps we take forward,” Obama said. “But inexorably, the idea of a more tolerant, more prosperous country that offers more opportunity to more people, that's an idea that the vast majority of Americans believe in." 

The president also said that the bill was an example of when “we can continue at a grassroots level to speak out on behalf of the values that we care about” — a nod to the work done by OFA, which grew out of his reelection campaign. Obama was attending the event to rally grassroots activists to help sign up uninsured individuals for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Attendees at the dinner of around 60 people included Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and OFA executives Jim Messina and Jon Carson. Representatives from  other top liberal organizations — including Planned Parenthood, AFSCME, SEIU and the Center for American Progress — were also in attendance, according to the OFA.

In a statement following the vote, White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president “welcomes the Senate’s bipartisan first step” toward passage of the ENDA.

Carney added that the president thanked “the lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have stood up for America’s core values of fairness and equality.”