Backers of gay rights bills in the House are pressing ahead despite grumbling from moderate Democrats, an uncertain future in the Senate and some friendly fire from the Obama administration.
A repeal of the dont ask, dont tell law banning openly gay people from serving in the military and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act could be on the floor this month, according to senior Democratic aides and lawmakers.
The gay rights bills are the only controversial social items on a fairly milquetoast House agenda, with a campaign mode Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) having already punted immigration reform to the Senate.
However, its unclear whether the votes are still there to repeal DADT after Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrote to Congress on April 30 urging a delay until after a departmental review, according to a leadership aide.
The bills chief sponsors remain confident that they can attach a repeal to the defense authorization bill when it comes to the floor as soon as this month.
We have the votes right now, said Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the Iraq War veteran leading the charge for repeal. Murphy said he has 192 co-sponsors plus a couple dozen private commitments to back repeal.
The game plan is we move forward every single day, he said. Every single day that we throw out these heroes who are willing to take a bullet for our country makes our national security suffer and wastes taxpayer dollars.
Murphy said Gates letter asking for more time doesnt make sense, in part because his bill would already give the department six months from enactment of the law to implement repeal. Given that the defense authorization bill isnt likely to become law before October, Murphy said that would give the department until March or April.
Theres plenty of time to figure out the implementation of this, he said.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), one of three openly gay House Members, puts the blame squarely on the president.
I think the president made a big mistake allowing that letter to be sent, Frank said, adding that he believes repeal can still pass, although it will give some Members an excuse not to vote for it.
But Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), another openly gay lawmaker, called the Gates letter a distraction that should not affect the vote count.
Its just wrong, and we need to stand up when things are wrong, she said.
Pelosi, for her part, is still strongly pushing for repeal this year and called on the administration to immediately implement a moratorium on dismissing gay soldiers until the review is finished. The House Democratic leadership is also waiting to see whether Obama issues more guidance on what he wants to see happen legislatively instead of simply deferring to Gates timeline.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesman, said the presidents commitment to repeal is unequivocal but appeared to back a delay.
This is not a question of if, but how, he said in an e-mail. Thats why weve said that the implementation of any Congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The president is committed to getting this done both soon and right.