After the White House signaled its approval of a ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise on the evening of May 24, organizations, activists and members of Congress surveyed the new landscape on Tuesday, May 25. Particular attention focused on the Senate Armed Services Committee, where the vote count for repeal only appeared to come together Wednesday morning.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), who submitted the proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the Rules Committee on Tuesday, said, ”We obviously had a setback two weeks ago,” referring to the letter from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen opposing repeal this year, ”but we’re going forward, and I think, now, we have an agreement that dismantles ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and shows great leadership” from President Obama and Gates.
Others were not so charitable about the statement of Gates’s support, in which Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates ”continues to believe that ideally the [Pentagon working group] review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.” That said, Morrell continued, ”with Congress having indicated that is not possible, the secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment.”
Several questioned the wisdom of the compromise, from former Clinton gay liaison Richard Socarides, to the more than 240 people who said that they were ”attending” a Facebook event urging Congress to vote ”No” on the compromise language, to members of Get Equal. Additionally, on Tuesday night, Get Equal co-founder Kip Williams was detained and released for heckling Obama regarding his view that the compromise would move repeal forward too slowly during a California fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Of particular concern was the requirement that the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff all certify the Pentagon working group recommendations before a repeal can take effect, which Socarides stated made the amendment a ”conditional future repeal.”
As Lt. Dan Choi and Cpl. Evelyn Thomas said in a statement issued by Get Equal on Tuesday night, ”Repeal hinges on a subjective study to ensure that our presence in the military won’t have a negative impact on the military, there is no date given to end military discharges of LGBT servicemembers, there is no change to the DADT law right now, and there is no guarantee that repeal will happen – whether or not the conditions on the amendment are met.”
Murphy acknowledged their desire for an end to the policy, saying, ”We want to act with a sense of urgency.” Despite that, however, he did not share their concerns.
”I am very confident that after the results of this study group, they will act quickly to certify repeal,” Murphy, who has been leading repeal efforts in the House for the past year, said. ”I am very confident that with the testimony of [Gates and Mullen in February] that it has been very clear … that they are in favor of repeal. Hence, ‘when’ and not ‘if.”’
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) echoed Murphy’s remarks, telling Metro Weekly bluntly, ”There is no chance that the Pentagon will withhold certification.”
Saying he was ”proud of being part of the group” working to push for repeal language to be included in this year’s NDAA, Frank added, ”People complaining about Congress were wrong.”
Although Murphy and Frank’s confidence will not alleviate the certification concerns for everyone – and although it will remain a question into next week and beyond if the amendment moves toward adoption – the more immediate question comes from the Senate, where a majority of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 28 members only expressed support for the amendment this morning, May 26, in the hours before the committee was to consider the NDAA.
Murphy replied ”yes” when asked if the compromise was necessary for Senate passage of a repeal. And it was clear what he meant when, on Wednesday morning, Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) announced that he would provide a critical ”yes” vote on the amendment.
In a statement released by Nelson’s office, he said, ”I will support the Lieberman compromise because it removes politics from the process.
”It bases implementation of the repeal on the Pentagon’s review and a determination by our military leaders that repeal is consistent with military readiness and effectiveness, and that the Pentagon has prepared the necessary regulations to make the changes,” he continued. ”I spoke to Secretary Gates and he advised that while he preferred waiting until the study is completed, he can live with this compromise.”
On May 25, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced opposition, and Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) announced support. Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) were reported by various outlets on Wednesday afternoon to be ”leaning yes.” However, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network announced Wednesday morning that Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) was the ”key senator advocates are actively engaging as of this morning.”
If Akaka ends up supporting the compromise, and the other votes played out as expected, it would leave Virginia Sen. Jim Webb (D), who declined to say how he would vote on the amendment, as the only ”no” vote from the committee’s Democrats. He told The Huffington Post on May 25, ”I don’t see any reason to preempt that process,” referring to the Pentagon working group’s process.