Both sides of Congress are expected
this week to take up key votes on repeal of “Don't Ask, Don't
Tell,” the 1993 law that bans gay troops from serving openly.
The votes are coming over the
objections of the Pentagon, which had asked lawmakers to delay repeal
until next year. A
request President Barrack Obama has endorsed. The Defense
Department says it would like to complete its study on how to
integrate openly gay troops in the military before Congress repeals
Proponents of repeal are pursuing
different paths in each chamber: Senators will attempt to attach
repeal language to next year's defense budget in the Senate Armed
Services Committee, while House members will vote on a similar
maneuver on the floor.
The diverging strategies are a result
of opposing political ideologies between the two men who control the
committees responsible for overseeing the Defense Department.
In the House, Missouri Representative
Ike Skelton, a Democrat, blocked debate of repeal last week when the
House Armed Services Committee he chairs began deliberations on next
year's defense budget.
“You won't find any mention of the
repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'” Skelton said, then added that
he and the committee's ranking Republican Buck McKeon had agreed to
avoid the issue. “Mr. McKeon and I have spoken about this, we have
agreed to support Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates' request for
time to study the issue, and we do not support this issue being
raised in this markup.”
Pennsylvania Representative Patrick
Murphy, a vocal supporter of repeal, will instead offer his amendment
after the committee hands over the measure to the full House. While
Murphy has said he has the votes needed to attach his amendment, an
official co-sponsor count puts the bill 25 votes short.
In the Senate, 15 votes are needed to
attach repeal language in the Armed Services Committee chaired by
Senator Carl Levin. The Michigan Democrat is among the Senate's most
ardent supporters of repeal. But the committees' ranking Republican,
Arizona Senator John McCain, has become the face of opposition to
repeal in the Senate.
Pressure from the Pentagon and the
White House to kick repeal into next year is likely to weigh heavily
on committee members who might prefer to avoid the issue during what
is expected to be a contentious election cycle.
“This is our 'all hands on deck'
moment,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers
Legal Defense Network, a group that lobbies for repeal of the
military gay ban, said.
“For repeal to succeed, it is
critical that all proponents for full repeal weigh in now, including
the White House. We are only a few days away from this historic
Conservatives opposed to repeal say the
policy is working and should not be repealed at a time when the
country is facing two wars.