The Human Rights Campaign is affirming its commitment to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year as part of its legislative agenda in Congress.
HRC President Joe Solmonese outlined during a Feb. 27 fundraising dinner speech in Raleigh, N.C., expectations for the passage of pro-LGBT federal legislation in Congress, including the repeal of the 1993 barring open service in the U.S. military.
In a DC Agenda interview following the event, David Smith, HRC’s vice president of programs, elaborated on the remarks that Solmonese gave during the dinner.
Smith restated HRC’s commitment to seeing this year the enactment of domestic partner benefits for federal workers, domestic partner tax relief and the Early Treatment for HIV Act, as well as repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He also cautioned against reading too much into the Solmonese’s remarks and said HRC is working on other tasks beyond what Solmonese mentioned.
DC Agenda: Joe said during the dinner that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be brought to an end this year. What is your plan for making that happen?
David Smith: Well, Chris, we’ve been talking about that for months, and there’s been a lot of public dialogue on a path to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” There are obviously a number of options on the table. Somebody just reminded me you have our campaign, so you are well aware of how we hope to move forward on that. (Editor’s note: See “Questions surround Lieberman’s ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal bill”)
Agenda: But what leads you to believe you can accomplish “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal this year?
Smith: We’ve been saying that for months — that this is year for it to be repealed and we’re mobilizing our campaign to accomplish just that.
Agenda: What has the White House been saying on this issue? Does the White House want repeal this year or does it want to wait until the Pentagon review is finished?
Smith: The White House has publicly said that they’re following this process that was set up with [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and [Chairman of Joint of Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael] Mullen — and that’s precisely what they’re doing is — following the process that was outlined at the Senate Armed Services Committee however many weeks ago that was now.
Agenda: What will happen if repeal doesn’t happen this year?
Smith: We fully expect repeal to happen this year. That’s what we’re working towards.
Agenda: What about two items Joe mentioned that were in the House version of the health care reform: the domestic partner tax penalty elimination and the Early Treatment for HIV Act? They’re not in the president’s proposed legislation. Do you plan to have those provisions moving forward as part of the health care package?
Smith: As far as I understand, the plan right now is that he put forward some broad outlines in terms of how the Senate bill can reconcile with the House bill. And every particular wasn’t included in those policy proposals, so it is still our hope that DP tax and ETHA will be included in whatever fix is — whatever they come up with to reconcile those two bills.
Agenda: How do you see the process going to move forward with health care reform?
Smith: Well, Chris, every reporter in this city, whether they work for DC Agenda or the New York Times is trying to figure out exactly how the process is going to work. They are still figuring it out, or if not still figuring it out, they’re not being open about how it moves forward.
I’ve read many different things, and they certainly are not talking to a whole bunch of people about it. But one version is the House passes the Senate bill, and the Senate introduces a reconciliation bill that fixes the Senate in accordance to what the House wants. There’s many different ways that this could all shake out. But it is still our hope that DP tax relief and ETHA will be included in whatever final resolution there is.
Agenda: And you’re expecting that to happen this year?
Agenda: What about the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act? What do you see as the path for that legislation now?
Smith: Well, as you well know, it’s been passed out of both committees in both the House and Senate in various committees of jurisdiction. It is probably our most ripest piece of legislation in terms of how many times it has had a hearing and markup, so again it is our ripest piece of legislation and indications are that it will happen this year.
Agenda: And you’re expecting it to happen this year?
Agenda: I know there was an issue with how Sen. Joseph Lieberman wanted the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to provide information it would offset the costs of that legislation within the existing budget. Do you know if that issue has yet been resolved?
Smith: I don’t believe it has, but I still think they are definitely looking for an offset and we have every reason to believe that they’re going to find it.
Agenda: Do you have any expectations for a timeline on when we can see floor votes on this legislation in either the House or the Senate?
Smith: No. I mean, I think the rest of the [congressional] calendar is completely up in the air this year.
Agenda: Joe mentioned four things that were part of the calender this year. Why wasn’t [the Employment Non-Discrimination Act] included among these four?
Smith: Joe spoke about ENDA in those remarks. It was one speech in one part of the country. It’s not going to be — one speech is not reflective of what we’re working on.
Clearly, there’s a very good possibility there could be movement on ENDA in the House. As you reported, there are issues with the Senate. We’re all, as a coalition, [we] are continuing to work through those issues. And you come to work every day trying to pass legislation, and ENDA is one of our top priorities. And each and every day we’re fighting for it, and you keep pressing until these things happen.
Agenda: But do you think there is as strong a possibility of passing ENDA as the other four things we just talked about?
Smith: Again, I think there are issues in the Senate, which I think are challenges, and we’re working through those challenges with our colleagues and our coalition.
Agenda: Another thing that wasn’t mentioned in Joe’s speech was the Uniting American Families Act. Do you think attaching as part of comprehensive immigration reform can lead to passage of UAFA this year?
Smith: We continue to press to get UAFA into the process. UAFA is one our priorities, and we continue to work on that as well.
Again, Chris, I want to stress, one speech is not going cover every single issue that we’re working on. You should be aware of that. So one speech does not an entire agenda make.
We’re continuing to work on repealing [the Defense of Marriage Act], UAFA, domestic partner benefits for federal employees. There’s a list of efforts that we’re working towards and each one is in various stages of the process.