Last night, the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson reported that Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) regional representative “on military issues” told the Stonewall Democratic Club of Nevada that the Senator intended “to vote for the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.” According to Laura Martin, communications director for the club, Ensign’s staffer said he supports repeal. “We asked her to clarify three times and she said he will vote in the affirmative on the defense authorization with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in it,” Martin said. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent confirmed the report this afternoon, noting that Ensign was “leaning towards” supporting repeal of the policy. In a letter to Martin obtained by Sargent, Ensign wrote, “It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation.”
But earlier today, Ensign’s office tried to walk back the comments, saying that Ensign was still “waiting on the report from the Pentagon and the testimony of the military chiefs to see if any changes to this policy can or should be done in a way so as not to harm the readiness or war fighting capabilities of our troops.” Tonight, on his program Face to Face, Nevada reporter Jon Ralston interviewed Derick Washington of the Stonewall Democrats of Nevada, who insisted that Ensign’s spokesperson reassured the group that he was on their side. Washington found a silver lining in Ensign’s backtracking, however, noting that the Senator didn’t say that he would filibuster the measure:
WASHINGTON: That is a politicians commitment, yes you are right. But on the other hand he did not say that he is opposed to the repeal. He did not say he would block the repeal. He did not offer any evidence that he is going to be an obstructionist and that is almost as good as we can hope for at this stage.
Ensign is the second Republican to backtrack on a commitment to repeal the policy. Yesterday, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) announced that she would likely back the measure on local Alaska television, but later hinted to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that she didn’t know how she would vote on the issue.