Many House Dems dodge the 'Don't ask, don't tell' question

Many Democrats in the House don’t want to be asked, and don’t want to tell how they plan to vote on, the repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

In a survey by The Hill, most of the 73 Democrats who have not sponsored legislation to end the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy declined to return calls asking for their position on the issue.

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Few press secretaries wanted to talk about the measure, and several looked to deflect questions.

Some said they weren’t familiar with the issue. Others said they weren’t sure the legislation would come up this week. Many said they would e-mail or call after talking to their congressmen, but only a handful did.

A number of the undecided Democrats whose offices declined to give their positions face tough reelection faces this fall. They include Reps. Baron Hill (Ind.), Betsy Markey (Colo.), Harry Teague (N.M.), Travis Childers (Miss.) and Walt Minnick (Idaho).

The reservations reflect the political sensitivity of the matter, which has been a flash point of the culture wars for nearly two decades. It is particularly touchy in an election year when Democrats in the lower chamber are worried about losing seats, and even their majority, in the fall.

There are 192 co-sponsors on legislation to end the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.). The amendment is expected to hit the House floor this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee is also scheduled to vote on a companion amendment.

At least two of the 73 Democrats who are not co-sponsors have publicly said they oppose ending the law: Reps. Ike Skelton (Mo.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

With all but a handful of House Republicans expected to vote no, Democratic leaders need many of their undecided members to vote for repeal. Democrats and gay-rights activists told The Hill on Wednesday that they have the votes to pass the legislation.

After two rounds of calls to the offices of every undecided House Democrat, only three offices stated their lawmaker's position on the contentious issue.

Reps. Jim Matheson (Utah), David Scott (Ga.) and G.K. Butterfield (N.C.) are all likely to vote to repeal the law, according to their offices.

Matheson press secretary Alyson Heyrend said the Utah Democrat wants to see the final language for repeal, which is expected to put off implementation of the repeal until after the Pentagon completes a review on how it will affect the military.

“But I know that he supports repealing 'Don't ask, don't tell,' ” Heyrend said. 

Puneet Kollipara contributed to this report