Pushing DADT repeal uphill

PUSHING DADT REPEAL UPHILL…. The Pentagon this year surveyed hundreds of thousands of active-duty and reserve troops, as well as 150,000 family members, getting their input on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” We already have a pretty good sense of the results: a majority of respondents, like a majority of civilians, are fine with ending the existing policy.

Ideally, this will give repeal proponents the boost they need to get Senate approval for a measure pending in the chamber. The report on the survey, however, isn’t due until Dec. 1. Yesterday, two pro-repeal senators asked for an expedited release.

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.” […]

“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.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Pentagon respectfully declines the request — the Defense Department generally works on its own schedule, not Congress’ — but what I found interesting about the appeal was who sent it. Lieberman has always been strong on this issue, but Collins, who claims to support repeal, helped her Republican colleagues kill the measure a couple of months ago.

Her co-signed letter yesterday, then, suggests she’s still trying to get to “yes.” Depending on when the bill can be brought to the floor, Democrats may only need one vote, and if Collins wants to be the hero here, it’s within her power to do just that.

Meanwhile, there’s still talk of appeasing anti-gay Republicans, led by John McCain (R-Ariz.), and stripping the DADT provision from the larger defense spending bill. Yesterday, however, some leading Dems signaled that if the DADT language is removed, there would have to be a separate, stand-alone vote in the Senate on repeal — a tricky move given the very limited lame-duck schedule, and a vote that would have to be duplicated in the House.

The surest way to success remains the option on the table — leaving the spending bill intact, with the repeal provision, and finding a Republican or two willing to let the Senate vote on funding the troops.

On a related note, Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, noted yesterday, “Twenty two studies, including military studies, have found that gays don’t hurt the military. The forthcoming DOD study is #23.”

McCain and other anti-gay lawmakers insist that they’ll also need to see #24. And when that doesn’t tell them what they want to hear, it’ll be time for study #25. It’s farcical.