Calling Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) ''a tireless champion'' for the repeal of the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network spokesman Kevin Nix pointed to the work and progress made on repeal since the veteran took over the efforts in the House as the reason he will be serving as the keynote speaker at Saturday's SLDN Annual National Dinner.
The dinner, which will be the group's 18th, will follow a day in which members and supporters of SLDN will be lobbying for repeal efforts on Capitol Hill and a week in which the commitment of White House repeal of the policy in 2010 was called into question by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
SLDN's longtime efforts opposing the policy will be highlighted repeatedly this week, as two of the group's clients will be testifying on Thursday, March 18, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Michael Almy is a former major in the U.S. Air Force, and Jenny Kopfstein is a former lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy. Both are Iraq/Afghanistan veterans discharged under ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''
Of the 28 members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, only five are signed onto the Senate's ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' repeal bill. They are Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), the bill's lead sponsor; Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.); Sen. Mark Udall (D-Conn.); Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.); and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.).
Of Friday's efforts, Nix said that at least 130 people will be visiting 80 offices to push for a repeal of the policy this year. And though Murphy will serve as the keynote speaker at Saturday's dinner, Nix was quick to point out, ''This dinner is all about the veterans.'' He noted that Almy, Kopfstein and several other veterans impacted by ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' will be represented on the dais at the dinner.
Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN executive director, said of the Senate testimony by Almy and Kopfstein, ''Both were dedicated and skilled members of their units, who should not have been kicked out. Men and women like them every day continue to be fired, which is why we urge DADT repeal to be included in the defense authorization bill in a matter of weeks.''
Also testifying will be retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John J. Sheehan, who will testify in support of the current policy. SLDN reports that Sheehan retired from the military 13 years ago.
The question of whether, when and how the policy will be repealed was front and center earlier this week, when Rep. Frank told reporters that he was ''disappointed with the administration talking about delaying legislation for a year'' and that the White House has been ''ambiguous'' about whether it supports legislative repeal of the policy this year.
The Palm Center's Nathaniel Frank expressed concern on Tuesday about the statements, saying, ''Some of us have been wondering for a while if the President's tepid leadership on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was an issue of the White House not wanting to put political capital behind this or if they just didn't want this to happen this year.
''You put this together with a year-long study period'' that has been put in place by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said Frank, ''and you begin to pile up evidence that the White House is not wanting to see repeal in 2010.''
SLDN's Nix said there was one clear way the administration could show its support. ''We would be look for the White House to show its commitment,'' he said, ''by including repeal in the Defense Authorization bill.''
The Palm Center's Frank went further, saying, ''As Barney Frank has suggested, there is a muddled message here. And that doesn't help Democrats.''
Noting that the ''tea party'' supporters have focused on what he called ''economic and fiscal conservatism'' and ''avoided social issues,'' Frank said that Democrats need to realize that changed dynamics of issues like ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''
''They're going to have to understand what they can accomplish'' by taking progressive positions on social issues, he said, ''and run on them and be proud of them.''
As some were questioning some Democrats' dedication to the issue, House efforts at repeal got additional support from the other side of the aisle when the office of Rep. Anh ''Joseph'' Cao (R-La.) confirmed on Wednesday, March 17, that Cao had signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill being pushed by Rep. Murphy. Cao becomes the second Republican to sign on to the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, joining Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has been a co-sponsor of the bill since its introduction in the 111th Congress in March 2009.
Michael Cole noted at the Human Rights Campaign's Back Story blog, ''HRC has worked with a coalition of groups to win Rep. Cao's support for MREA including Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Log Cabin Republicans and Servicemembers United.''
Terry Hamilton, the board chairman for Log Cabin Republicans, said in a statement, ''Congressman Cao's commitment to the health and strength of our national defense and speaking out against one of the last forms of state-sanctioned discrimination shows his strong character, something that is missing in too many debates in Washington.''