February 23, 2010 at 11:05 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Questions surround Lieberman’s ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal bill

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

The announcement that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) would introduce “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal legislation next week in the U.S. Senate was hailed by many opponents of the law as an important step toward undoing the nation’s ban on service by open gays and lesbians.

But some are questioning the wisdom of Lieberman introducing a standalone bill when “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal can be accomplished through other methods.

According to an internal memo obtained by DC Agenda, the Human Rights Campaign is taking credit for landing Lieberman as the champion for repeal in the Senate.

“Additionally, working with the White House and Senate leadership, HRC has secured Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) as the Senate lead sponsor — someone who not only sits on the Armed Services Committee, but also brings a centrist approach and net to this issue,” says the memo.

The HRC memo also addresses the strategy of winning repeal via the defense authorization bill and notes particular concern about where members of the Senate Armed Services Committee stand on the issue.

“Including [repeal] in the base [Department of Defense] authorization bill will require a vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee,” says the memo. “Only one Republican on the committee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), is likely to support repeal. In addition, a number of key Democrats do not currently support repeal: Sens. Robert Byrd (D-WV), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Jim Webb (D-VA). Securing a minimum of two of these five Democrats is essential. Nelson, Bayh and Webb are the three best prospects.”

The memo also says that convincing House members from New Jersey and Texas to sign on in support will be crucial for House passage of the bill.

Last month, a group of LGBT advocates held a secret strategy meeting related to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A source who attended the meeting, speaking to DC Agenda on condition of anonymity, questioned why HRC pursued the Lieberman-led path for repeal when the consensus among many lobbyists is that including repeal as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill is the best route.

“As for Lieberman, I would just say I applaud that he did it because there has not been a bill in the Senate and now we can start asking people to sign on and figure out where people are, but I’m not sure that it’s not just a diversion tactic to show that HRC’s done something,” the activist said.

In a statement, Allison Herwitt, HRC’s legislative director, said her organization has been working with Lieberman for months about introducing standalone legislation because “it’s an important educational and organizing tool.”

“It helps constituents lobby their senators to co-sponsor and publicly support repeal,” she said. “Introduction of a bill in no way precludes strategy involving the Defense Department Authorization bill.”

Kevin Nix, spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said that HRC was not alone in pursuing Lieberman as lead sponsor of repeal legislation and noted that his organization has worked with the senator for some time.

“We’ve been working with Lieberman for, I think, years — just like HRC has been, as well,” he said.

Nix said despite the imminent introduction of a standalone “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill, advancement of the effort as part of the upcoming defense authorization bill is “absolutely” the best way to go.

“Obviously, it’s historic,” he said. “We welcome all of this stuff with Lieberman, and introducing a standalone bill is hugely significant, but if we’re going to get legislative repeal this year, then the repeal language needs to be in the authorization bill, and we’ll be working with [Senate Armed Services Committee] Chairman [Carl] Levin to make sure the votes are there.”

In a statement, Lieberman said he’d proudly sponsor “the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity.”

“To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause,” he said.

News of Lieberman’s bill was first reported by Jamie Kirchick in the New York Daily News. Several important details about Lieberman’s upcoming legislation weren’t immediately revealed this week, though, such as whether any Republican senators have signed on as co-sponsors. It’s also unknown whether the legislation will call for the same timeline for repeal provided in the House legislation sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

Servicemembers United, a gay veterans group, is calling for a longer implementation time that would allow 18 months for the Pentagon to first complete its expected yearlong study of implementing repeal.

Lane Hudson, a D.C.-based gay activist, said the “devil will be in the details” for Lieberman’s bill and that he’s hoping the senator incorporates the timeline advocated by Servicemembers United.

“As long as Lieberman is going to introduce viable legislation, I think he’s an excellent person to be the chief sponsor,” Hudson said. “He’s got a great relationship with the Blue Dogs in the Senate caucus, and he’s probably the best Democrat to keep [Republican U.S. Sen.] John McCain from fiercely opposing repeal.”

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

  • We applaud Sen. Lieberman & urge him to mirror the text of the House repeal bill that gay orgs have been promoting for years especially its allowing the military a more than adequate 6 months to implement. NOTHING Secty. Gates PROVES they NEED more time. He only proposed reasking questions that have already been repeatedly answered & asking a question for which there is no precedent: “Troops, what d’y’all think?” My straight Marine cousin was not asked what he thought about being sent to Afghanistan last month. And he was only given 5 days to “get used to the idea.” The only thing giving the Pentagon a yr. or more to delay implementation would accomplish is 100s more gay servicemembers kicked to the curb & I know none of us want to see that.

  • Well, whatever works!

    Lets see now, should we do “The Maneuver” of 51 votes, bringing in VP Biden and his black limousine? or should we do “The Trick”, which means we do EVERYTHING we can to get our homo-loving republicans to top the 60+ vote, for more of us in the military… hmmm, The Maneuver? or The Trick? Gosh, the Senate is such a confusing place… maybe we should do dinner and drinks first? ;)

  • LOL.@ Peter The Saint

    But seriously thanks for your support but you to be erased from the Senate!

  • If there’s enough Congressional support for repeal at all they’d be support for including a “standalone” bill as a rider to def auth just as the hate crimes bill was. AGAIN: WHERE is the justification for asking 100s more gay srvmbrs be dumped during that 18 mnths???? “Servicemembers will be fired almost daily while the study is going on.”-SLDN. “Speedy implementation causes no disruption.”-Palm Ctr. The 6 months max the House bill would allow was conceived by experts and is more than enough. “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”-John Kerry re Vietnam, 1971.

  • HRC secured Lieberman? Really? Does Senator Lieberman know that? The esteemed “voice”of our community is once again taking credit for other people’s work. Up until late last year you would have been lucky to find the repeal effort anywhere on their legislative map. But now that ENDA and DOMA are effectively stalled for this session they decide to adopt DADT. HRC taking credit for this is a lot like Canada taking credit for singlehandedly winning World War II. It just did not happen that way.

  • There are several problems with this plan, the stand alone bill being just one of those problems. It might be better strategy to pass it as a stand alone bill, but I do see the reason in including it with a defense authorization bill if that was the only way to get it passed. Unfortunately, it appears we will have perhaps 2-3 Republican senators voting for the repeal, and several Democratic backstabbers betraying us, to include my own Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who, like Virginia’s other Senator Mark Warner is likewise not cosponsoring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act or the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act. Again, this reinforces the notion that we should not give monet the Democratic National Committee as this money gets passed on to homophobic members who don’t support our issues and sometimes actively work against us.
    Another problem with this bill would be adhering to the military’s suggestion that we wait a year for some unnecessary study, which is nothing more than delay tactic that buys the Republicans time to kill the repeal altogether when they gain seats in the 2010 election. If DADT is put off for a year, its the same thing as killing it, because more Republicans in the House and Senate means no repeal of DADT. Lieberman’s plan should call for a repeal within six months, and the bill must be passed this year before the election.

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