In the past 24 hours, several media outlets have reported on the possibility of a version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) moving forward in the Senate with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal provision stripped from it – discussions the leadership at the Human Rights Campaign struck back at today as "background noise" that does not have the support of Democratic leaders in the Senate.
[UPDATE @ 7:25 PM: Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said in a statement on Monday evening, "The White House opposes any effort to strip 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' from the National Defense Authorization Act."]
In The Wall Street Journal, Laura Meckler reported, "Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are in talks on stripping the proposed repeal and other controversial provisions from a broader defense bill, leaving the repeal with no legislative vehicle to carry it."
On Monday, Fred Sainz, HRC's communications vice president, called the reports "interesting background noise," but added, "At this point, this is nothing more than a rumor that has always been a possibility."
The Advocate's Kerry Eleveld earlier had reported that "observers of the 'don't ask, don't tell' debate began cautiously acknowledging that an effort is in the works to potentially move a stripped down version of the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act that would exclude repeal."
Sainz, however, said, "As you would expect, Republicans like McCain are going to be shopping around any option that strips 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal from the underlying bill."
As Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network told The Advocate, he believed there are several options being considered, including one option that would entail an NDAA without the DADT repeal provision. Sarvis told The Advocate, "Levin doesn't want to be the first committee chairman (in half a century) not to see an NDAA pass."
Of any effort by McCain to get Levin to agree to remove DADT repeal from the NDAA, Sainz concurred with Sarvis's line of thinking, telling Metro Weekly, "[McCain] is going to appeal to Levin wanting to get something done. Telling him, 'Don't be caught empty-handed [without passage of any defense authorization bill in the 111th Congress.].'"
But, suggesting a slight difference of opinion from Sarvis's comments, Sainz said, "We haven't seen any evidence of Democrats – and especially those in leadership – that have taken the bait."
In what he called a sign that HRC truly does believe that talk of DADT repeal’s demise to be just talk, HRC sent staff out across the country today to eight states important for Senate repeal. Sainz said that staff had been dispatched to Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.
As was done earlier this year, Sainz said, the staff would be focused on recruiting veterans and non-veterans and organizing them for all aspects of engaging grassroots support for repeal – from postcards and phone calls to letters to the editor and direct lobbying.
HRC's targets include picking up votes of senators who voted against moving the NDAA forward in September or holding onto the votes of those senators' seats that will be changing hands because of special elections in November:
- In Alaska, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who voted against moving forward the NDAA in September, is still uncertain of the outcome of her Senate write-in campaign to retain her seat after having lost the Republican primary to Tea Party candidate Joe Miller.
- In Arkansas, Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), who voted against moving the NDAA forward in September, is in her final months in the Senate, having lost re-election to Republican John Boozman.
- In Illinois, Rep. Mark Kirk (R) – who voted against the DADT repeal amendment in the House – won the special election to fill out the remaining months of then Sen. Barack Obama’s Senate term. He will replace repeal-supporting Sen. Roland Burris (D).
- In Indiana, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) voted against moving the NDAA forward in September, but was considered a likely possible vote for repeal.
- In Maine, Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are generally supportive of LGBT equality measures and were thought to be likely possible votes for repeal, despite both voting against moving the NDAA forward in September. Collins voted for the inclusion of DADT repeal in the NDAA as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), as well as voting to move the NDAA out of committee.
- In Ohio, Sen. George Voinovich (R) is retiring, but was considered a possible vote for repeal although he voted against moving the NDAA forward in September.
- In Virginia, Sen. Jim Webb (D) voted against the DADT repeal amendment in SASC, but then voted to move the NDAA -- with DADT repeal included -- out of SASC and voted in September to move the NDAA forward on the Senate floor.
- In West Virginia, Sen. Carte Goodwin (D) will be replaced by Gov. Joe Manchin (D). Goodwin voted to move the NDAA forward, but Manchin's campaign staff told the Wonk Room in September that Manchin "doesn't believe the rules should be changed until the battlefield commanders can certify it doesn't hurt unit cohesion."