A key supporter of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is poised to deal the legislation a significant setback.
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a strong supporter of repealing the law which bars openly gay people from serving in the military, said Tuesday he will hold hearings on the upcoming Pentagon study about implementation of repeal.
That study is due December 1 and Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said last Friday that “no one at the Pentagon will comment” on the study’s contents until December 1.
Levin indicated, in his remarks to reporters Tuesday, that he is open to staging separate votes on DADT repeal and on the annual Defense Authorization bill, which currently contains the repeal language.
“The [defense spending] bill has 849 pages and only two of them are ‘Don’ t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said Levin to reporters, according to a Washington Post account. “The rest have to do with our troops, they have to do with a whole lot of critically important things.”
Levin has hinted before that he might pull DADT repeal from the defense bill for stand-alone consideration and, following Tuesday’s comments, many now expect that is what he will do.
Passage as a stand-alone measure weakens the repeal’s chances in several ways. It puts it in a long line of pressing issues that are competing for Congress’ attention during the final weeks of the lame-duck Congress. And, even if Congress does take it up, the stand alone measure leaves repeal vulnerable to many more amendments from opponents who will likely seek to damage or undermine its intent.
On an optimistic note, Rep. Patrick Murphy, who championed the addition of DADT repeal language to the House defense authorization bill last spring, told the Washington Blade Tuesday that he believes the Obama White House and Defense Department will deliver a “full spectrum of engagement” to pass DADT repeal.
White House spokesman Shin Inouye said President Obama called Levin Wednesday to urge him to keep DADT repeal within the defense bill. Inouye said the call to Levin followed “outreach over the past week by the White House to dozens of Senators from both sides of the aisle on this issue.”
But Levin’s apparent readiness to acquiesce to Republican pressure—particularly from Senator John McCain, the ranking minority leader on the Armed Services Committee—is clearly a blow.
“This is no time to lose our resolve,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese, in a statement Tuesday. “Chairman Levin has been our advocate and we have every reason to believe that he will continue to push to end this unjust and discriminatory law. DADT came into being by way of the [defense spending bill] and it should be removed by the [defense spending bill] . This can and must get done.”
Levin’s comments came just one day after two relatively small and obscure groups that support repeal of the military’s ban on gays issued a statement urging the Senate to pass the annual defense authorization bill “whether or not the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” is included.” A coalition of larger and better known LGBT groups issued a counter-statement saying, “Under no circumstances should DADT repeal be stripped from the underlying Defense Authorization bill.”
The Palm Center, a think tank which has been vigorously promoting repeal of DADT, initially supported the notion of allowing the defense spending bill to go through, even without DADT repeal language. But on Wednesday, it issued a statement suggesting Levin is being manipulated by McCain.
“Senator McCain is holding all military spending hostage in order to force Senator Levin to cut the repeal of DADT from the Defense Authorization bill,” said Palm Center Executive Director Aaron Belkin. Belkin called the defense spending bill the “best legislative vehicle for repeal” and said McCain’s goal is “continued discrimination of gay and lesbian service members….If repeal is not accomplished now, we could be looking at years of continued discrimination against loyal Americans serving their country.”