May 27, 2010 at 9:50 am EST | by Chris Johnson
'Don't Ask' repeal supporters predict Senate victory

Recent announcements from two U.S. senators in support of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal measure has pushed through the threshold necessary for a successful vote in the Senate, according to activists.

On Wednesday, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) announced they would vote in favor of the legislative compromise unveiled by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) earlier in the week. Activists said these announcements give them at least the 15 votes necessary to pass repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee when the measure comes before senators on Thursday.

The compromise unveiled earlier in the week provides for delayed implementation of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, meaning the law would only be repealed after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue, which is due December 1. Further, the president and Pentagon leaders would have to certify the U.S. military is ready for the transition before repeal could happen. The legislation also lacks non-discrimination language and would return authority on discharges to the Pentagon.

In a statement Wednesday, Byrd said he was willing to support the legislative compromise, but only if another provision was included to add another 60 days to the timeline after the president and Pentagon leaders certify repeal.

“This period of time will allow the Congress, along with the American people, to thoroughly review the proposed policy recommendations to ensure that these changes are consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention for our armed forces,” Byrd said.

In an earlier statement Wednesday, Nelson said he’s supporting the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal compromise because he doesn’t believe “most Nebraskans want to continue a policy that not only encourages but requires people to be deceptive and to lie.” Further, Nelson said the legislative compromise made public by Lieberman “removes politics from the process.”

“It bases implementation of the repeal on the Pentagon’s review and a determination by our military leaders that repeal is consistent with military readiness and effectiveness, and that the Pentagon has prepared the necessary regulations to make the changes,” Nelson said.

Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” said they were confident in having the votes for passage in the Senate Armed Services Committee following the Byrd announcement.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the Byrd announcement was more than enough to put support over the edge.

“The Byrd modification last night put repeal advocates over the finish line and of course Sen. Ben Nelson’s announcement late this morning moved Lieberman and Levin to a sweet Senate 16,” Sarvis said.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, also said the Byrd announcement means the necessary votes are present and went so far as to call Senate passage “pretty inevitable.”

“We do have 15 confirmed on the record,” he said. “We have 15 confirmed and then we’re expecting a 16th by the vote.”

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) hasn’t yet formally issued a statement in favor of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” measure. Activists are saying they expect him to vote in favor of the measure when it comes before the committee.

However, Fred Sainz, spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was more cautious about declaring victory before the vote had taken place.

“This vote will come down to the wire and we are not taking any vote for granted,” Sainz said. “Sen. Byrd is to be thanked and congratulated for his support. It clearly reflects the support this issue has.”

While the 60-day timeline that secured the Byrd vote means more time is necessary before open service is available, repeal supporters are saying the additional time is acceptable.

Sarvis said Byrd’s 60-day concept “incorporates earlier proposals around coordinated and delayed implementation” and gives Congress “time to receive and review submissions and recommendations” from the Pentagon.

Nicholson said having the 60-day time period after the requirements are met for statutory repeal “is not unusual at all.”

“It doesn’t have to go back to Congress now for any sign off after the 60 days or anything like that,” Nicholson said. “It’s just an extra 60-day cushion added into the overall timeline, which is negligible in the grand scheme on things.”

Nicholson said he thinks the official vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee will take place on Thursday and the vote could become public on the same day.

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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