Over at The Advocate, Kerry Eleveld reports on the fallout from Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ insistence that Congress wait for the Pentagon Working Group to finish its policy review on December 31st before beginning the legislative process of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
DADT advocates generally believe that this year represents the best political opportunity for removing the ban against gays and lesbians serving openly, and have grown frustrated with the White House’s resistance to even pressure Gates to accept a strategy that would attach repeal legislation to the defense authorization bill but delay repeal until after Congress receives the military’s final report.
Eleveld’s sources tell her the White House is unlikely to change its position:
“Clearly the world changed dramatically with the Gates letter,” said one Hill veteran who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
The source said that prior to Gates’s letter, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee was just one to two votes shy of the 15 needed to attach a repeal measure to this year’s Department of Defense authorization bill in committee. Folding repeal into the must-pass Defense funding bill in committee would place the onus on those who oppose repeal to find 51 votes to strip out the measure on the Senate floor.
Multiple sources worried that moderate Democrats such as Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia would now be nearly impossible to sway. “When people are asked to vote against the recommendations of the Defense Secretary, that makes it a very heavy lift,” said the source. Another Hill insider said the question now is whether it’s possible to usher through some alternative approach, such as taking a repeal vote this year but delaying implementation in accordance with the Pentagon’s preferred timeline.
“But that would require the White House weighing in and changing the dynamic and I’m not confident they will do it,” said the source, who also agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs appeared to be unfamiliar with such a delayed implementation strategy during Wednesday’s press briefing but said he would check into it.
The White House’s response is clearly reminiscent of the health care debate, in which the administration choose to punt critical progressive measures to Congress and refused to publicly advocate on their behalf until the very last possible moment, if at all. The administration likely believes that it can secure repeal next year, after the Pentagon produces its report. Whether it can or not is certainly debatable, but what’s clear is that the administration’s habit of ignoring its base is almost at the point where it’s completely unplugged from the community — unware of the kind of delay-implementation strategies that have been bantered about for months.