Congressional leaders signaling move to repeal 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy

Congress could move early next year to repeal the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy on gays serving in the military.

The move would play to the liberal base of President Barack Obama’s administration, but could pose risks by introducing a controversial issue into an election year in which Democrats are wary of losing seats, particularly in the House.

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In the Senate, White House advisers have directly discussed repealing the law with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a key member of his chamber's Armed Services Committee. Lieberman, a hawk on defense, is a staunch opponent of "Don’t ask, don’t tell," and his support could prove influential in winning centrist votes.

Lieberman's office has confirmed the discussions took place but did not provide further details.

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a leading proponent of gay rights and close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), earlier this week predicted the House would move on the issue.

“Early next year we will be moving on ‘Don't ask, don’t tell,’ ” Frank told Headline News.

Frank made the comment a few days after Obama reiterated his campaign promise to repeal the policy on gays serving in the military.

Obama has disappointed some supporters by not moving more aggressively to repeal the law. He has taken a different road from that of President Bill Clinton, who moved to repeal the ban on gays in the military early in his administration. But that ended up causing Clinton other political problems, including in his fight for healthcare reform.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) on Thursday urged the Obama administration to solicit advice from his military advisers about how and when the repeal of the law should occur. He said the law no longer reflects the reality of society, and that it costs the military critical personnel.

“As we fight in two wars, it's counterproductive — and, frankly, expensive — to discharge men and women who have critical skills we need to win those wars just because they're gay,” Udall said in an Oct. 15 letter to the president.

Earlier this month, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) announced she had won a commitment from Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to hold the first hearing on the policy in 16 years.

Levin has signaled he supports a repeal of "Don’t ask, don’t tell" provided it is done “in the right way.”

Legislation to repeal “Don't ask, don't tell” has been pending in the House since March, and has 181 co-sponsors--nearly 40 more than such legislation has ever garnered before. A Democratic aide noted that another dozen lawmakers who have not co-sponsored the bill have privately committed to voting for it.

Democrats expect hearings to start up in winter of this year or early next year.

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The latest push on gays in the military comes as gay activists and Democrats alike have grown more skeptical of the Obama administration's commitment to repealing the law.

Although the president has long promised to end the controversial 1993 ban — a vow he repeated before last week's gay rights march at the Capitol — the White House has taken little formal action, prompting some Democrats to push the issue on their own.

A day after Obama again promised to repeal the law, tens of thousands of activists marched on the Capitol to push for equal rights, including marriage equality and a repeal of the law.

Frank dismissed last Sunday's protest, telling The Associated Press it was “a waste of time at best.”

“The only thing they're going to be putting pressure on is the grass,” he quipped.

He also defended Obama in the interview with CNN, arguing the president was hamstrung by reticent lawmakers.

“President Obama has been trying,” Frank said. “The problem is not President Obama. The problem again is getting to the 60 Senate votes."