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Sens. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) tried to boost support for repealing the military’s ban on openly gay service members by requesting Monday that the Pentagon release a report reviewing the policy early.
“Some of our colleagues in the Senate share our view about the importance of passing a defense bill, but they are awaiting the release of the working group’s report before agreeing to begin debate on the bill,” the two wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, referring to the defense authorization bill, which includes a repeal provision. “We are hopeful that release of the report and the opportunity for our colleagues to review its findings and recommendations will help inform their understanding and alleviate some concerns they may have regarding the military’s capacity to implement repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a manner that is consistent with our armed forces’ standards of readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”
Lieberman authored the repeal amendment, which the Armed Services Committee adopted in May, and Collins was the lone Republican Senator on the panel to vote in favor of it.
The annual defense authorization bill usually enjoys broad bipartisan support, but the DADT repeal language has scuttled its passage this year. The measure failed to garner the 60 votes needed to break a GOP-led filibuster in September, and Sen. John McCain has pledged to continue to hold it up if it includes the repeal language. The Arizona Republican, ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, wants the panel to hold hearings on the Pentagon’s yearlong study before the Senate considers whether to repeal the controversial policy, which was enacted in 1993 under President Bill Clinton.
Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is considering dropping the DADT language in order to appease McCain and pave the way for passage of the defense bill. Under that scenario, the Senate could hold a separate vote on DADT, although such a move is widely opposed by gay rights activists. They argue that the repeal has no chance unless it is attached to a must-pass bill such as the defense authorization.
“I have an obligation as chairman to get a defense bill passed, and I feel strongly we ought to modify and repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ with the language we have in it,” Levin said in a brief interview Monday. “I don’t think anybody can know for sure the best way to get things done.”
Leading gay rights groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, continued pushing for the Senate to act during the lame-duck session. But with limited floor time and a lengthy list of legislative items, it remains unclear when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring the defense bill and the DADT repeal up for a vote.
In their letter to Gates on Monday, Lieberman and Collins also noted the narrow timeline and made the case for swift action.
“Given the limited amount of time remaining in the 111th Congress, the soonest possible release of the working group’s report could therefore be instrumental in allowing the defense bill to move forward,” the two wrote.