December 1, 2010 at 5:26 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Is Obama pushing senators on ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal?

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he's unaware of any outreach President Obama to senators following the release of the Pentagon report. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he’s unaware of any attempt by President Obama to convince fence-sitting senators to support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal following the release of the Pentagon report on the military’s gay ban — but said Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made calls to influence lawmakers.

Asked by the Washington Blade on Wednesday whether the president has been reaching out to senators following publication of the study, Gibbs replied, “Not that I’m aware of.”

But when pressed by The Advocate on whether Obama will make such outreach efforts later, Gibbs said the issue “has been a priority for the president” and “he’ll be involved in this.”

A number of key senators, including Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio), have said they were awaiting the Pentagon report before making a decision on whether to back “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Now that the report is released, pressure from the president could help influence those senators to support lifting the military’s gay ban.

While Gibbs said he’s unaware of any outreach from the president, the White House spokesperson said Gates has made efforts to reach out to senators.

Asked whether he thinks Gates would make calls on this issue, Gibbs replied, “He has.” Gibbs offered no further details and subsequently ended the news conference.

Gibbs also maintained that repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is a legislative priority for the president and said it’s important for Congress to repeal the ban before the courts strike it down.

“A court is not likely to provide the Pentagon with the type of transition period that they’d like to see,” Gibbs said. “That’s why Secretary Gates after going through the study and [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] Adm. [Mike] Mullen have urged Congress to act in this lame duck to change this law.”

Still, limited time remains on the legislative calendar and the White House has other priorities, including passage of the START Treaty, a nuclear arms reduction agreement, and tax cut issues.

Gibbs said the president hasn’t “provided specific calendar guidance” to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on when the Senate should schedule a vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” relative to other issues, but maintained it’s “tremendously important” to take action soon.

“I would reiterate, though, what I said here earlier and what I think is a fairly powerful and eloquent statement from Secretary Gates about the strong need to get something done and address this issue in the lame duck,” Gibbs said. “It is tremendously important over the next few weeks.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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