POLITICS -- September 23, 2010 at 12:36 PM ET
Activists Uncertain About Prospects for 'Don't Ask-Don't Tell' Repeal
Gay rights advocates are regrouping after the Senate on Tuesday voted down legislation that would have allowed gays to serve openly in the military, and are uncertain about the prospects for turning the vote around during a lame-duck session of Congress following November elections.
The provision was part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Because of the controversial gay-rights provision included in the legislation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrats on Tuesday were unable to muster the 60 votes required to bring the bill to a vote.
A similar provision to repeal the military's don't ask-don't tell policy passed the House earlier this year.
Tuesday's "vote was clear a disappointment and a lame-duck vote is very hard," said Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, a Santa Barbara, Calif., think tank that focuses on gay issues.
To match the House version of the legislation, "you have to stop every [Senate] amendment, and then you have to make sure you can override a filibuster. And if they [opponents of repealing don't ask-don't tell] did what they did yesterday, then they win," he said.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, thinks there is a more than 50 percent chance the Senate will vote during the lame-duck session on the defense authorization bill. But as far has how the actual vote goes, "it will depend on how the dynamics change in next eight weeks ... what else the president's priorities are in lame duck, and how much proponents of repeal work this," he said.
One factor that could affect how moderate senators vote in a lame-duck session is an upcoming Pentagon report that focuses on how to implement a repeal of don't ask-don't tell. The Defense Department working-group report will look at how to allow gays to openly serve without harming military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention, and family readiness.
A number of senators during the debate said they could not vote to repeal the ban on gays in the military without first seeing the Pentagon's report, which Defense Secretary Robert Gates is due to receive Dec. 1.
"The delivery of the report takes away a talking point that has been used by opponents of repeal of don't ask-don't tell," Sarvis said.
Three senators who opposed the repeal on Tuesday are being watched closely for a possible change in their votes during a post-election session.
"With Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., once the report is delivered, then I hope and expect him to vote for repeal," Sarvis said. "Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., had said she was for repeal."
And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who voted in favor of repeal in committee but against it on the floor of the Senate, also might change her vote based on what is in the Pentagon report, he added.
But the report could be another reason senators seek to delay voting to lift the ban, Sarvis continued. He pointed to how Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said more than three years ago he was open to recommendations for lifting the ban if military leaders recommended doing so.
"Look at how he's already moving the goal posts," Sarvis said. "In recent days he's begun saying, 'Well, I'm going to need to examine that report. I need to find out how they came to those conclusions and who they relied on. We may need to have hearings on this.'"