The sponsor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation in the U.S. House is confident Congress will overturn the law this year — even as other lawmakers have indicated repeal may not happen until later.
In an interview with DC Agenda Tuesday, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) said he believed lawmakers would overturn this year the 1993 statute preventing gays, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military and that he’s expecting Congress to take up the issue “legislatively in the next couple months.”
Murphy said the upcoming defense authorization bill could be a vehicle for passing repeal legislation. He noted that passage as part of defense authorization would give the Pentagon time to complete the study currently underway on the law.
“We usually don’t pass that into law until October of that year,” Murphy said. “October is about seven months away. That’s plenty of time for the folks to get ready to just put out to the troops that you need to respect not just one another’s race, one another creed, but also one another’s sexual orientation.”
Still, Murphy said defense authorization was just one way that Congress could enact repeal. Other options remain available.
“I think that’s one of the vehicles moving forward, and so I anticipate getting this done this year,” he said.
Murphy said momentum has been building toward repeal in the last couple months, leading to a position where Congress can overturn the 1993 law. In particular, Murphy cited the testimony Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen gave last month in support of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“Now is the time when senior leadership in our military who are responsible to have the best policies for our young men and women who serve the country are calling for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ — as has our commander-in-chief,” Murphy said. “So now Congress needs to get off the sidelines and get this done this year.”
Murphy said the growing number of lawmakers who have expressed support for repeal also is contributing to the momentum.
Last month, Murphy picked up another co-sponsor for repeal legislation in the House, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-Ind.), bringing the total number of co-sponsors for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to 188. Murphy said he’s received commitments from about two dozen other House members that they’d vote in favor of the bill should it come to a floor vote, which would bring the votes close to the 218 needed for passage.
Murphy also expressed enthusiasm for plans by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) to soon introduce companion legislation in the Senate and said the independent senator should be able to bring Democrats and Republicans on board.
“I know he’s committed to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’“ Murphy said. “I know he knows the best thing for our military, and frankly, when it comes to foreign policy, I think he’s been one of the leaders in the Senate.”
Murphy said he’s expecting Lieberman’s bill to be similar to his in terms of doing away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and providing for a non-discrimination policy. But Murphy said he’s unsure about other details, such as whether Lieberman’s bill will have a longer implementation time to allow the Pentagon to complete its study on the law.
The lawmaker is not alone in expecting that Congress will repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year. On Saturday, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said at a fundraising dinner in Raleigh, N.C., that 2010 would be the year that advocates would do away with the ban on open service in the military.
Despite these expectations, others have expressed doubt about whether Congress will repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year.
Media reports have indicated the White House hasn’t provided Congress a clear path forward on proceeding with repeal. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) recently told DC Agenda the White House has been “muddled” on the issue and that he’s hoping the White House makes the path clear for Congress in coming weeks.
But Murphy said the White House has been crystal clear in that Congress should work to do away with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The commander-in-chief has said that he wants the Congress to put a bill on his desk to finally repeal this harmful policy that has hurt our national security and has cost the American taxpayer $1.3 billion,” Murphy said.
Another voice of doubt comes from Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who said he’s skeptical the votes are there to repeal the law banning open service.
Levin has been floating the idea of a legislative moratorium on discharges, which he said lawmakers might more likely support because it doesn’t predetermine the outcome of the study currently underway at the Pentagon.
But Murphy called a moratorium “half-stepping” and said that full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is still the way to go.
“This is a time when we need to make sure that we refocus our efforts on capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda,” Murphy said. “Now is not the time to have Chapter 15 investigations and hearing if someone is gay or straight in our military.”
Along with many other Democratic lawmakers, Murphy could face a difficult re-election campaign this fall. A number of Republicans have lined up to challenge the lawmaker, including Mike Fitzpatrick, the former House member whom Murphy ousted in 2006 by taking 50.3 percent of the vote.
Asked whether his public support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was having an impact on his constituents’ view of him, Murphy dismissed such worries about his re-election prospects.
“I wasn’t elected to worry about re-election,” he said. “I was elected to make sure that I’m fighting for the families of our military and to keep our country and our economy strong, and I’m doing everything in my power to make good on that special trust and confidence.”