House Republicans apparently have pulled out of staff-level negotiations over the defense authorization bill out of fear that even if the Senate passes a measure without language repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will insert it anyway.
Bob Simmons, minority staff director for the House Armed Services Committee, told other staffers in an e-mail Monday that ranking member Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) “has directed me to withdraw from the pre-conferencing effort” out of fear that Pelosi will push the repeal language no matter what is agreed to in bipartisan talks between the House and Senate. The e-mail was accidentally posted to a broader list, and Roll Call obtained a copy.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) are in talks about how to move a defense authorization bill to the floor in the coming weeks. House Armed Services staff members, including Simmons, were also part of staff-level discussions to smooth out differences between the House and Senate bills in an effort to speed conference negotiations, McKeon spokesman Josh Holly said.
But without assurances from Pelosi’s office that the Speaker would not add repeal language back into the measure, House Republican staffers have fled those talks.
“There’s very little time to try and get the defense authorization act pushed through,” Holly said. “The conversations were about what the options are to try and move the bill forwards and get it signed by the president as soon as possible.”
The bill passed by the House in May includes language to repeal the policy banning openly gay people from serving in the military. It also includes language that would allow military hospitals overseas to perform abortions. McCain has repeatedly said he would block the measure from consideration on the floor if it contains those provisions.
Levin and McCain are said to be discussing ways to strip those controversial pieces from the legislation in order to move the bill during the upcoming lame-duck session.
But any major changes accepted in the Senate would also have to be approved by the House. According to Simmons’ e-mail, House Republicans fear Pelosi would still find a way to push the DADT repeal and abortion language even if the House considers a Senate-passed bill that is void of such language.
“The Speaker could simply create either a self-executing rule and re-attach DADT and abortion,” Simmons wrote to top staffers for Levin, McCain and House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). “Since the majority had the votes before, it is safe to assume this would again pass in the House. Thus the House would send it back to the Senate where it would likely pass with DADT repeal and abortions included.”
Neither Simmons nor Pelosi’s office immediately responded to a request for comment.
A House Democratic aide chastised McCain for stalling action on the bill and said, “Republicans are playing political games with the defense bill.