Log Cabin Republicans' leader fights 'don't ask, don't tell'

R. Clarke Cooper says that in his five months leading the Log Cabin Republicans, no congressional office has denied a meeting with him.
R. Clarke Cooper says that in his five months leading the Log Cabin Republicans, no congressional office has denied a meeting with him. (Melina Mara/the Washington Post)
By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2010; 9:29 PM

R. Clarke Cooper is watching the clock on the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The leader of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group of about 19,000 members, is pressing the three branches of government to end the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in uniform.

The Army reserves captain, who is suing the federal government, was at a recent meeting with President Obama and other activists to discuss strategy, and this week he is lobbying Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Days before the lame-duck session starts, Cooper is finding himself up against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the war hero and former presidential candidate who once supported repeal but is now trying to strip it from the massive defense authorization bill that sets Pentagon policy. McCain has said he wants it cut to ensure quick passage of the bill, according to his aides.

A Pentagon report on repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is due to Obama on Dec. 1, leaving little time before the holidays for lawmakers to consider the issue.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) supports ending the ban, according to aides, but will not proceed without Republican support.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has said she will vote for repeal if Reid can ensure a fair debate and will allow Republicans to introduce amendments.

The liberal Center for American Progress said Tuesday that at least 10 senators of both parties are waiting to read the Pentagon report before making their decision. In anticipation, the Human Rights Campaign and other Democratic-leaning gay rights groups are pressuring senators on both sides of the aisle.

In a meeting with gay activists two weeks ago, Obama said he remains committed to ending the military ban this year, and Cooper said he urged the president and his aides to more actively seek out GOP lawmakers willing to vote for repeal.

"If they're serious about repeal, they'll start picking up the phone," Cooper said. "They may be surprised to find how many votes might be out there."

The White House continues to speak with congressional leaders about including a repeal in the defense bill and the administration is opposed to passage of a defense bill that doesn't repeal it, a spokesman said Tuesday.

Cooper isn't naming the senators he's targeting this week for fear of spoiling potential support.

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