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In Major Lobbying Push, Gay-Rights Groups Don’t Always Agree

Groups supporting repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military are preparing for a full-throttled lobbying assault when lawmakers return from their Thanksgiving break.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) promising to bring up the defense authorization bill that includes the repeal, the groups are now focusing on a handful of Republican and Democratic Senators who will determine its fate.

“It is a very important moment for our community, and we should not leave any opportunity on the table,” said Fred Sainz, vice president for communications and marketing for the gay-rights organization Human Rights Campaign.

Gay activists view consideration of the measure in the lame-duck session as their best hope of doing away with the policy because a more Republican Congress next year is unlikely to take up the matter. 

However, there have been differences between the various lobbying organizations over strategy — with some groups questioning the wisdom of using celebrities, such as Lady Gaga, to promote their cause on Capitol Hill and others differing over how much to criticize Senate Democratic leadership on procedural matters.

Targeting Senators

The HRC has committed $2.8 million to the latest lobbying effort that includes placing ads in newspapers and on Facebook and Google to pressure Senators. The group also is deploying staff members to eight states to recruit veterans to speak out for the repeal. Those states are Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. 

Some moderate Republican and Democratic Senators from those states have said that before making a decision on the policy they want to see a Pentagon report, which was scheduled to be released Wednesday but is now set to be unveiled Tuesday, on the potential effect of the repeal.

The Senators include Republicans Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Dick Lugar (Ind.), George Voinovich (Ohio), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Scott Brown (Mass.) as well as Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.). Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) is the only Republican who voted for the repeal in committee. But she joined other Republicans in blocking consideration of the defense bill in September, citing Reid’s unwillingness to allow debate on a host of amendments.

This time, some groups say part of their lobbying efforts will focus more on legislative procedure such as pressing Reid to allow the consideration of more amendments to make it easier for Republicans to vote for the bill.

“We are sort of past the point now of being at the grass-roots stage,” said Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, which advocates on behalf of gay and lesbian troops.

Criticizing Reid

Nicholson said his criticism of Reid for his handling of the defense authorization bill has not gone over well with the Senate Democratic leader. He said his group was not invited to a meeting of gay-rights and liberal organizations in Reid’s office before the Thanksgiving break to discuss the repeal effort.

The meeting was organized by Reid’s chief of staff, David Krone, and included Jim Messina, who is President Barack Obama’s deputy chief of staff, and Phil Schiliro, the assistant to the president for legislative affairs.

A participant at the meeting, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said that the message was encouraging.

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