By Roxana Tiron - 05/27/10 12:12 AM EDT
Lawmakers and gay-rights activists predicted Wednesday that both the Senate and House will have enough votes to repeal the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law.
Legislation to scrap the ban on openly gay service members in the military is expected to clear a major hurdle Thursday in the Senate Armed Services Committee.
According to the latest count by gay-rights activists, who are pressuring panel members to vote for repeal, all Democrats on the committee — except Sen. Jim Webb (Va.) — are expected to support scrapping the ban.
Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) on Wednesday boosted the chance of passage at the committee level when he announced he would support a deal struck earlier this week between the White House and Lieberman, Levin and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).
“We are increasingly confident about the Lieberman compromise and that this could very well be a historic week in the United States Congress,” said Marshall Wittmann, Lieberman’s communications director.
The lawmakers and the administration agreed to repeal the policy only after the Pentagon finishes its review of repeal implementation and President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaObama in Nevada: 'Heck no' to Trump, Joe Heck Lots of (just) talk about 'draining the swamp' America’s Eastern European mess MORE, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certify that it can be achieved consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention.
The gay-rights activists believe 16 Senate Armed Services Committee members, including Lieberman and Levin, will vote in favor of repeal.
They are counting Democrats Robert Byrd (W. Va.), Jack ReedJack ReedArmani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner Overnight Finance: Jobless claims near record low | Cops bust IRS phone scam in India | Republican demands Iran sanctions docs Senate Dems demand answers from Wells Fargo over treatment of military MORE (R.I.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Bill NelsonBill NelsonFederal agency under fire for selling recalled cars Senators offer renewed hope of ending hotel booking scams Yahoo hack spurs push for legislation MORE (Fla.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillSunday shows preview: Pressure on Trump for second debate Clinton’s strategy: Get under Trump’s skin Clinton campaign chair jabs at Trump's age MORE (Mo.), Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (Colo.), Kay HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE (N.C.), Mark BegichMark BegichTrump campaign left out of Alaska voter guide Ryan's victory trumps justice reform opponents There is great responsibility being in the minority MORE (Alaska), Roland Burris (Ill.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Ted Kaufman (Del.), and Republican Susan CollinsSusan CollinsRepublican opposition to raising the minimum wage Is crumbling 5 takeaways from the Indiana Senate debate GOP senators avoid Trump questions on rigged election MORE (Maine).
Byrd late Wednesday gave his support to the repeal amendment after Levin and Lieberman agreed to allow Congress to have 60 days to review the implementation policy once certified.
Because of national security reasons, markups of the defense authorization legislation are closed to the public. But votes on final passage and amendments are typically made public a day or two after the markup ends.
While Ben Nelson’s support left Democrats optimistic they could pass the delayed repeal, the military leaders of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force dealt a blow to the compromise deal on Wednesday. The service chiefs each wrote separate letters to Sen. John McCainJohn McCainLots of (just) talk about 'draining the swamp' 56 memorable moments from a wild presidential race Is Georgia turning blue? MORE (R-Ariz.), urging Congress not to act until the Pentagon finishes its study.
McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a key opponent of the repeal plan, forwarded the service chiefs’ letters to Levin.
“I cannot overemphasize the importance of completing the comprehensive review prior to taking any legislative action,” McCain wrote to Levin.
Meanwhile, House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) on Wednesday predicted that a repeal amendment sponsored by Murphy will make it onto the 2011 defense authorization bill this week.
“I would suspect that there is wide bipartisan support for this in both chambers,” Larson said in an interview.
Murphy’s stand-alone bill for repeal has 192 co-sponsors, but the compromise struck with the Obama administration, which will be reflected in his amendment, is expected to attract more supporters.
It’s unclear whether the Republican leaders will instruct their conference to vote against the amendment and against the whole defense authorization bill.
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told members that he would vote against the whole defense bill if it includes the repeal measure.
House Democrats are taking seriously the Republican threat to vote against the underlying bill and may have to reach out to some of the most liberal House members to secure their votes on final passage. Some liberals who traditionally vote against every defense bill are firm supporters of repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), a GOP target this fall, reiterated his support of existing law earlier this week.
“My position on this issue has been clear — I support the current policy, and I will oppose any amendment to repeal ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ I hope my colleagues will avoid jumping the gun and wait for DoD to complete its work,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
In an interview with The Hill last week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be nothing but a “memory” by the end of 2010.