Hoping to seize the momentum on DADT repeal

HOPING TO SEIZE THE MOMENTUM ON DADT REPEAL…. Yesterday afternoon, soon after the release of the Pentagon’s report on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” President Obama issued a pretty strong statement on the issue, apparently intended to boost the larger legislative effort.

“Today’s report confirms that a strong majority of our military men and women and their families — more than two thirds — are prepared to serve alongside Americans who are openly gay and lesbian. This report also confirms that, by every measure — from unit cohesion to recruitment and retention to family readiness — we can transition to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and national security. And for the first time since this law was enacted 17 years ago today, both the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have publicly endorsed ending this policy.

“With our nation at war and so many Americans serving on the front lines, our troops and their families deserve the certainty that can only come when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all. The House of Representatives has already passed the necessary legislation. Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally. Our troops represent the virtues of selfless sacrifice and love of country that have enabled our freedoms. I am absolutely confident that they will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known.”

It was the latest evidence of a renewed push from the Obama administration to get this done quickly. We also saw yesterday that the DNC’s Organizing for America hopes to engage the grassroots on DADT repeal, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that there’s still time to get this done.

On a related note, Rachel Maddow added on MSNBC yesterday that Defense Secretary Robert Gates emphasized President Obama’s direct engagement on this issue. “This is a sign,” Rachel said, “that the president has been doing a lot.”

That’s certainly good news, as White House involvement will likely be critical if this has any chance of success at all, but the question remains as to whether the votes will be there in the Senate or not. It’s tempting to think the Pentagon’s survey results would effectively end the debate. Alas, that’s not the case.

The Washington Post reported today, “The bill’s fate rests largely on the votes of about 10 moderate senators of both parties who are waiting to read the report before making their decision. Already Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) have said they will vote to end the ban if Democrats permit a fair debate.”

In this context, permitting a “fair debate” means giving up two weeks of floor time so that Republicans can screw around with pointless amendments, just for the sake of delaying the process. With about 18 or so days left in the lame-duck session, Democratic leaders just want a vote on the defense legislation, and don’t feel as though they can afford to give up precious time with so many other things left to do.

Yesterday helped shift the momentum on the DADT debate, but GOP senators may yet kill the entire effort.