Obama mobilizes volunteers to urge repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

After the House voted to repeal the policy, the Senate took on the issue and also voted to lift the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military.
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 17, 2010; 3:39 PM

President Obama is mobilizing his army of grass-roots supporters in a final push to repeal the military's 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Organizing for America (OFA) has launched a public relations offensive to demonstrate support for repealing "don't ask, don't tell." The group, run out of the Democratic National Committee, is running online advertisements and staging events in the home states of moderate Republican senators inclined to support the repeal bill.

OFA volunteers are delivering petitions with tens of thousands of signatures to wavering senators in an effort to build momentum for repeal - and to try to show them that they are safe politically if they vote to overturn the ban.

The House overwhelmingly passed the legislation Wednesday and the Senate will begin to debate it on Saturday, with a final vote to come as early as Sunday. To reach the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 votes, Democrats will need at least a few Republicans to vote for the measure.

OFA is also stepping up support of the DREAM Act, but that immigration bill, which would provide a path to citizenship for some people who were brought to the country illegally as children, is considered less likely to pass in the lame-duck session.

In e-mails to Obama's supporters, Democratic officials have pressed the urgency of repealing the law during the lame-duck congressional session, warning that the chances of doing so after January, when Republicans take control of the House, would be greatly diminished.

"If we don't seize this chance, there's no telling when we might have this opportunity," OFA director Mitch Stewart wrote to supporters Friday.

The lobbying blitz is similar to OFA's efforts to rally support behind the sweeping overhaul of the nation's health-care system that passed Congress in March.

In this fall's midterm elections, OFA also tried to rally its network of millions of Obama supporters to help Democratic candidates across the country. But the group's impact in electoral politics was less successful. Aside from a handful of victories, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's reelection in Nevada, most OFA-backed candidates lost.

OFA volunteers have held nightly phone banks this week in Massachusetts and Maine to pressure Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who all have said they would vote for the repeal bill, DNC press secretary Hari Sevugan said.

The group launched campaign-style robo-calls in Maine as well as in Ohio and Illinois, the home states of Republican Sens. George V. Voinovich and Mark Kirk, respectively. The two are believed to be a possible "yes" vote for repeal.

OFA is also running online advertisements designed to get supporters to call targeted Senate offices to support the repeal bill, Sevugan said.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy Kaine blasted an e-mail to the OFA list with the subject "URGENT," asking supporters to call their senators before this weekend's vote.

"If your lawmakers are supporting these measures, let them know they have your thanks," Kaine wrote. "If your senators are undecided or opposed to these measures, please ask them to do what is right. Time is running out to see progress on these critical issues. The single best thing you can do to help support the president is to call your senators right now."

On Friday afternoon, OFA volunteers plan to deliver a petition with the signatures of 21,000 Massachusetts residents to Brown's office and a petition with the signatures of 28,000 Illinois residents to Kirk's office.

And on Saturday, OFA is staging events in Illinois and Alaska, home state of Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), who has said she would support repeal, to show her that she has backing from voters there.

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