December 16, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Will new GOP support ensure ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal?

Opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are increasingly confident they have the 60 votes needed in the Senate to repeal the military’s gay ban in the wake of announcements from three Republican senators pledging to back stand-alone legislation to end the 1993 law.

On Thursday, Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said in separate statements that they would support standalone legislation pending before the Senate to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” now that the chamber has resolved the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.

The three lawmakers had previously announced they support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, but hadn’t yet endorsed any specific legislation to achieve that goal. Earlier this month, they voted against the motion to proceed on major defense budget legislation containing language to repeal the military’s gay ban.

John Gentzel, a Snowe spokesperson, confirmed in a statement to the Blade that Snowe would support the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill — provided certain legislation clears the Senate first.

Asked via e-mail whether Snowe would vote in favor of the repeal bill, Gentzel replied, “Yes, assuming it comes to the floor after the Senate deals with taxes and the [continuing resolution] first (per the GOP letter to Reid from Dec. 1).”

Gentzel was referring to a letter in which all 42 members of the Republican caucus pledged to oppose legislation coming to the floor if the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and funding for the government hadn’t yet been addressed.

A spokesperson for Sen. Scott Brown said he'd vote in favor of the 'Don't Ask' repeal bill (Blade photo by Michael Key).

According to ABC News, Gail Gitcho, a Brown spokesperson, said the Massachusetts senator would vote in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought “a clean repeal bill” to the floor.

“Sen. Brown accepts the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed,” Gitcho said. “If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it.”

Michael Brumas, a Murkowski spokesperson, also said via e-mail that the Alaska senator would vote in favor of the bill.

“Sen. Murkowski will support a stand-alone repeal of the ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] bill,” Brumas said. “With the tax package out of the way, and legislation to fund the government on a glide path to passage, Sen. Murkowski will vote to move to ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] when it is brought to the floor.”

The announcements from Snowe, Brown and Murkowski mean four committed Republican votes in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is an original co-sponsor of the legislation.

Other possibilities for Republican support are Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). The Indiana senator has expressed support for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but also voted against moving ahead with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and hasn’t backed any specific measure that would end the military’s gay ban.

Fred Sainz, the Human Right Campaign’s vice president of communications, said he’s “confident” that announcements from Brown and Murkowski mean that 60 votes are present in the Senate to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Sens. Collins, Brown and Murkowski’s commitment is proof that this unjust and discriminatory law will soon be a part of the dust-bin of history,” Sainz said.

But even with this support in the Senate, questions remain over whether Reid will schedule a vote on the repeal legislation in the limited time remaining before lawmakers adjourn for this Congress. Reid has said he’d bring the legislation to the floor before the end of the session — and has even threatened to keep the Senate in session until Jan. 4 to repeal the law — but anxiety remains as he hasn’t yet scheduled the bill.

In a news conference, Reid said he doesn’t know if he’ll bring the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation to the Senate floor before Christmas but reiterated he plans on bringing the bill to the floor along with other bills before the end of the year.

“I don’t know if I’ll bring it before Christmas,” Reid said. “Before this Congress ends, we’re going to to — we’re going to complete — or have a vote, determine a vote on the START treaty, the DREAM Act, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, 9/11 and, hopefully, we can get an agreement on nominations. Otherwise we’ll have some votes on nominations.”

Questions over President Obama’s commitment to pushing the Senate to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” also continue as White House officials assert that Obama is making calls to ensure repeal happens.

In response to a question from The Advocate on why Obama hasn’t been on TV calling for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs during a news conference Thursday insisted the president has been active in repeal efforts.

“Let’s be clear, we would not be at this point if it wasn’t for the president’s leadership in bringing this issue to the forefront,” Gibbs said. “There’s time to do this if there are those on the other side of the aisle that wish to get this done.  And it is clear that whether it’s Sen. Brown or Sen. Murkowski or Sen. Snowe or others, there’s an effort to get this done if we have time to do it.”

Asked whether the president has been in conversations with Reid on the issue, Gibbs replied, “They talk regularly.”

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

1 Comment
  • Yo, everyone who cares about this at all: Please, asap, CALL your two U.S. Senators at 202-224-3121 and tell them that, as one of their constituents, you want them to vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell THIS YEAR. Then get at least 5 of your pro-equality friends and family members to do the same, and ask them to spread the word to their friends too. Spread the word by facebook and e-mail too. These next few days are CRITICAL — so stop reading this, and start calling! Call the Senate. 202-224-3121. Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year.

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