By Jared Allen and Bob Cusack - 05/20/10 12:33 AM EDT
The Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy will be nothing but a memory by year’s end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declared Wednesday.
Pelosi, in an interview with The Hill, stopped short of laying all of her strategic cards on the table. She wouldn’t say whether the House will take the lead on the issue or predict when the Clinton administration-era tenet would be repealed.
“I don’t have any doubt that ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ will be a memory by the end of this year,” she said.
However, the prospects for a law banning workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity — another pillar of the gay-rights platform — are somewhat dimmer.
Pelosi is optimistic that she will have enough House votes for both the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
But that is far from certain. The ENDA bill has 202 co-sponsors and the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” has 192, well short of the 216 or so needed.
Some conservative Democrats have said they don’t want to vote on the controversial bills, especially in the wake of tough votes on healthcare and climate change.
“I’m not going to bring up anything that’s not going to win,” Pelosi said. “And we feel that we’re in a pretty good, strong position on both bills.”
“Nothing is easy here,” Pelosi later added. “There isn’t one easy vote.”
The Speaker indicated she is aware that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has expressed caution about Congress moving too fast, but gave no indication she is going to wait for a yet-to-be-completed Pentagon report on “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
While Pelosi’s support for a repeal of the policy and for the enactment of ENDA is not in doubt, it has been less clear how hard she intended to push both issues before the November elections.
Pelosi held a conference call with leading gay- and- gender-rights activists on Monday to discuss the future of both measures. The call was not open to the press, leaving activists from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to report on the Speaker’s level of commitment.
And those reports varied wildly, with some activists saying that Pelosi was clear that both bills would move this year, and others saying that she made no promises and laid out no firm timetables.
On Wednesday, Pelosi alluded to the thinking of many Democrats, which is to insert language repealing the policy into the defense authorization bill.
“‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ if it were to be part of a defense authorization bill, it would have to be something that we would have to make a decision about sooner than [ENDA],” Pelosi said. “And we’re having our conversations.
“I support ENDA. I have for decades and it’s very important to me,” said Pelosi.
“When the opportunity is there, we want to bring that up, and I hope that will be soon,” she said. “We’ll see what people want to do. It’s not my own personal decision. We’ll just see where we go from here.”
Many in the party see the advancement of either bill as a blatant affront to the Speaker’s pledge early this year that she would force no more tough votes without the Senate first leading the way.
A version of ENDA passed the House in the last Congress, but it did not include language on discrimination against transgender people. This year’s version does, and that has some politically vulnerable Democrats withholding their support.
A leading House liberal on Wednesday afternoon said House leaders had this week told similarly minded members of the caucus that ENDA was going to be taken up before the elections, regardless of what happens with “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“And for the Blue Dogs, it’ll be to give them that final push over the cliff,” the Democrat said, only half in jest.
While saying there can “never be enough” energy among base voters, Pelosi said she didn’t feel the need to go beyond her plan to focus on jobs and tout her party’s accomplishments in order to bolster turnout this November.
She offered Tuesday night’s special-election results in Pennsylvania as proof that Democrats are plenty energized.
“I have confidence that when people see the choice that they have ... when they see the distinction, I think people will be more energized,” she said.
On “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” Pelosi said she was eager to see how the Senate chooses to handle its defense authorization bill.
“We’ll see what the Senate is going to do,” she said. “If there’s something [that is] going to be in the Senate bill, there’s an argument for just agreeing in conference.”
But she quickly clarified that her curiosity shouldn’t be mistaken for the necessity of an assurance, which she has said is needed before the House can begin to consider a comprehensive immigration reform bill.
Yet Pelosi seems to have softened her resistance to the Senate’s far different approach to legislating, even on her signature issue of climate change.
“Again, as with all of these ... we’ll see what the Senate will do,” Pelosi said.
“Right now the bill that they have is very conference-able,” she said of the climate change bill authored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.).
“I’m pleased with what we did here, I like what I see there, we’ll see what happens as they go through the amendment process,” Pelosi added.
Asked if she will remain Speaker until climate change is enacted, Pelosi laughed and said she hopes the bill will be signed into law “soon.”
While she backs the Obama administration addressing some climate change matters administratively through regulation, Pelosi said Congress needs to pass a bill.
“It has to be done by statute,” Pelosi said, explaining that stakeholders need some level of certainty so that U.S. policy on global warming does not fluctuate when administrations change.