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Democrats Eyeing DOMA Repeal

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has 30 co-sponsors on her bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, but she is pessimistic about the measure’s chances of passage. Nevertheless, some Democrats feel it is a fight worth having.

"I think if you look back at the trajectory of 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal, the first bill dated back to 2005," said Zeke Stokes, a spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "Building the same kind of public support is critical to getting DOMA repeal done."

Feinstein's bill has 30 co-sponsors, but absent from the list are vulnerable incumbents up for re-election next year. As one GOP leadership aide suggested, "I don't think people like Sen. [Claire] McCaskill [D-Mo.] want to have to vote on this bill."

And while eight Republicans crossed party lines to vote in favor of the DADT repeal last year, it's unclear whether any of them would do the same to overturn DOMA. Two of those Republicans, Sens. John Ensign (Nev.) and George Voinovich (Ohio), are no longer serving, and others, including Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), maintain that gay marriage is a state issue.

Collins' lack of support is significant because she was the lone Republican to vote for the DADT repeal in committee last year and helped lead the charge for the successful Senate vote, along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The White House tapped Lieberman to carry the effort on the Senate side, betting he would be able to court a handful of GOP moderates to ensure that the bill had 60 votes to pass on the floor.

There has been no similar strategy to shepherd a legislative repeal of DOMA through Congress, although Obama has publicly endorsed Feinstein's legislation, which has a companion bill sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in the House.

Obama heartened the gay community in February when he said DOMA was unconstitutional. He touched on the issue at the Human Rights Campaign's annual dinner earlier this month. At that event, Obama assured the crowd, "We're making real and lasting change.

"We can be proud of the progress we've already made," he said. "And I'm going to continue to fight alongside you."

Obama's public push rallies a base important to his re-election efforts, and any kind of legislative action, regardless of its chances, helps build on that message, the argument goes.

While Democratic aides have grumbled all year about Obama's muddled message on jobs and the economy, they nevertheless maintain that the fight on DOMA is helpful to the party.

"Unfortunately, I don't see the Senate making a great deal of progress on jobs one way or the other," Nadler said in a phone interview. "The House isn't either, [so] I don't think it's a distraction. I think this government needs to do more than one thing at a time."

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