Democrats confident in repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010

Thirteen Democratic senators signaled strong support Thursday for ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and said they are willing to work well into December to ensure passage of a defense bill that would end the ban on gays openly serving in uniform.

The show of support came as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said this week that he plans to bring the bill up for a vote again after the Thanksgiving recess despite the objections of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who opposes an end to the policy.

Other Republicans, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), have said they will vote to move ahead with the bill if Reid allows for a fair debate and others could also support it, senators said Thursday.

"I'll go through Christmas Eve, and I think we all will if it takes that," said Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

"The eighth day of Hanukkah," joked Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), a devout Jew.

"The seventh day," suggested Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.). "I'm not giving up my eighth day," he said to laughs.

Joking aside, the Senate calendar could be the strongest roadblock to passage of the defense bill. A Pentagon study group reviewing how ending the ban could affect troop morale will submit a report to President Obama and the top military leaders by Dec. 1.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) plans to hold hearings on the Pentagon study shortly after its release and before senators vote on the defense bill. That would leave about two weeks before Christmas for the Senate to debate and pass the bill and for House and Senate negotiators to finalize a conference version before final passage.

Asked Thursday whether the Pentagon supports adding the repeal to the defense bill, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell reiterated the Obama administration's position.

"That's what we as an administration are pushing for, and we certainly see the merit in using that as the legislative vehicle to ultimately get to repeal," Morrell said, acknowledging that the Defense Department rarely comments on congressional affairs.

Efforts to end the ban are backed by 58 percent of Americans, according to a Quinnipiac University poll published Thursday. Fifty-five percent of respondents with a member of the military in their family backed ending the ban, the poll said.Collins, Levin and Lieberman have asked the Pentagon to release its study before December, but that is unlikely to occur, Army Gen. Carter Ham said Thursday. Ham co-chairs the Pentagon team writing the report and testified Thursday at an Armed Services Committee hearing on his nomination to serve as commander of the U.S. Africa Command.

During the hearing, Sen. James Webb (D-Va.), a former Marine who served as Navy secretary, praised Ham and his co-chairman, Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, for spearheading an exhaustive review of the issue."It's going to be a very important study for us to look at and examine," Webb said.

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