Metro Weekly

Kirk Takes Office, DADT Repeal Supporters Hopeful for His Vote

kirk.jpgIn a ceremony on the floor of the U.S. Senate this evening, Vice President Joseph Biden swore in Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), according to a report from the Chicago Tribune. Kirk replaced Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) after defeating Alexi Giannoulias in November’s election. Kirk will complete the final month of the term of then-Sen. Barack Obama and will begin a full term of office with the 112th Congress.

One of the first votes cast by the new junior senator from Illinois very well could be whether to proceed to debating the National Defense Authorization Act — a vote the passage of which is a must-win for advocates of the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The NDAA, as passed in May by the Senate Armed Services Committee, contains language aimed at repealing DADT.

In May, the full House approved the DADT repeal language — but Kirk, who had received the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign in past elections, voted against the DADT repeal amendment. The next day, however, Kirk was one of nine Republicans to vote for the NDAA containing the DADT repeal language.

Although Kirk has made general comments about his view of the priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress during which repeal advocates hope to see the NDAA passed, he has not said whether he will support or oppose proceeding to debate on the NDAA in the lame-duck session or whether he will support DADT repeal specifically.

Log Cabin Republicans was optimistic about Kirk’s swearing-in. Christian Berle, LCR deputy executive director, told Metro Weekly on Monday evening that LCR “has had a long and consistent working relationship with Senator Kirk during his tenure in the House on employment non-discrimination and many more issues, and we are excited to have him in the United States Senate.”

Winnie Stachelberg, the senior vice president at the Center for American Progress and one of the people who the White House has turned to throughout the DADT repeal process over the past year, told Metro Weekly on Monday night that she is hopeful that, after the release of the Pentagon working group’s report on Tuesday, Kirk will vote for repeal in the Senate.

“As a congressman, when I was at the Human Rights Campaign working with him and his office, we agreed on some things, and he was always a good person with a good staff,” she said, adding that she felt the same way after working with his office on several other issues while at CAP.

“I have heard that, as a Naval reservist, he has a couple of things that he needs — first, to read the report — and, he’s now on the committee, and will be able to ask [his questions of the military leadership],” she said. “The second thing I understand is that he wants this report not to be a political report, but a roadmap. My understanding is that people who have talked to him — those are concerns.”

Talking about his vote, then, Stachelberg said, “I understand that he’ll have time to read the report and that it is, in fact, what’s he’s asking for: a roadmap. Losing Senator Burris as a known vote in favor [of repeal] is a challenge, but, as I understand now-Sen. Kirk’s concerns, I feel we haven’t lost a vote there.”

Berle also was optimistic, writing, “Senator Kirk has long indicated his anticipation of the report to be released by the Comprehensive Working Group and desire to consult with Admiral Mullen and other members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the subject of open service.”

Berle concluded, “Log Cabin Republicans is confident that with the exemplary work coming from the November 30th Report, Senator Kirk will join with a bipartisan majority in ending the failed and unconstitutional ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

Of the larger picture, Stachelberg said, “I think it will be interesting to see not just the report and the survey — but how Gates and Mullen — Gates in particular — respond. My sense is that the Pentagon is increasingly focused on repealing this thing — now … and that they’re really on that program.”

Likewise, earlier today, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated Obama’s desire for a legislative solution at the press briefing, saying, “I think the President strongly believed that this was an issue that can and should be solved legislatively, encourage the Senate to act legislatively on the Defense Authorization bill and particularly on changing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. That’s our position now and I don’t believe the release of the report will do anything but strengthen that case.”

[UPDATE: From GOProud board chairman Chris Barron:

“As the only gay group that endorsed Mark Kirk in his succesful run for the U.S. Senate, GOProud enjoys a very good relationship with his office. Senator Kirk has made it clear before that the findings of the Pentagon Working Group will be critical in his decision-making process; and all indications are that the findings of the Working Group are almost universally positive. Given that, we are hopeful that if Senator Reid offers a fair process for debate and consideration of the Defense Authorization bill we will be able to win the support of Republicans like Senator Kirk in repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.”

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis told reporters Tuesday that he doesn’t think Kirk’s vote is “in the bank” yet.]

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