Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said Tuesday that he plans to defy Defense Secretary Robert Gates' plea for a delay in repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law banning openly gay people from serving in the military until after a military review of the policy.
"What we ought to do is repeal it but make the effective date after the report," Levin said. The Michigan Democrat said he's not sure yet if he has the votes to repeal the law, however. He said he will move forward "if we can."
Levin said he hopes to add the repeal to the Defense authorization bill but will delay the implementation of the repeal until 90 days after the review is completed, which is expected by the end of the year.
Levin pointed to Gates' letter to him last week saying the review was on how to implement the repeal, not whether to do so.
"He's reached a conclusion on whether it ought to be repealed; he's already judged this issue," Levin said. "He favors the repeal. So have I."
Gates, however, last month urged Congress to postpone action on overturning the policy, and he reiterated his appeal in an interview over the weekend.
"There's a smart way to do change, and there is a stupid way to do change," Gates said on CNN. "This one has to be done smart. ...
"Frankly, I believe to legislate before this review is done would send a very negative signal to the men and women in uniform that their views on this don't matter. ... I support this change, but it needs to be done in a way that has the least possible impact on our military."
Separately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was noncommittal when asked if she would push for a vote to repeal the policy in the next few weeks. Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), the lead sponsor of an effort to overturn it in the House, said last week that he is pushing full-steam ahead and has the votes to pass an amendment to the Defense authorization bill on the House floor. That bill could be brought up before the Memorial Day recess.
"We'll see," Pelosi said of the timing. She also did not commit to allowing a vote on the amendment. "We'll be talking to the chairman of the committee about how he wants to proceed with his bill, but we are committed to repealing don't ask, don't tell,'" she said. "We are counting on that happening at the end of this year when we see the report on how they intend to repeal it, but not a question of whether they will."
The policy "has no place in our country."
House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) opposes repealing the policy, and advocates of the repeal appear to lack the votes to pass the amendment in his panel, requiring an end-run straight to the floor.
Some moderate Democrats have grumbled privately about moving forward before the election on such a controversial issue, but gay rights groups have been turning up the heat.