By Ed O'Keefe and Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, December 18, 2010; 12:00 AM
Gay rights activists, congressional aides and supportive lawmakers are anticipating a successful vote this weekend to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" law.
But for Stacey Vasquez and David Hall, discharged by the military for violating the law, the tumultuous - and protracted - political fight regarding gays in the military is about much more than policy and procedure.
"It's not just a vote. This is my life," Vasquez said Friday at a Capitol Hill news conference. "This is what I was called to do; it's what I want to do; it's what I'm inspired to do."
Vasquez, a 12-year Army veteran, said former colleagues call every day asking when she can reenlist.
"Maybe tomorrow," Vasquez said she tells them. "After this vote, I'll be able to say, 'Yes, I, too, can return to the service.' "
Hall, a 36-year-old Air Force veteran, has been fighting to end the ban since his discharge in 2001.
"It seems like it's going on forever. But you know, we are so close," he said Friday.
After more than 17 years of trying to undo a law enacted during Bill Clinton's presidency, and weeks of uncertainty about congressional support, the repeal effort has experienced a "legislative surge" over the past week, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) said Friday. A key procedural vote is scheduled for Saturday.
Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) are sponsoring the bill to end "don't ask, don't tell" that passed the House this week. Supporters expect a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate now that Collins and three other Republicans - Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) - are expected to vote with 57 members of the Senate Democratic caucus.
Passage would fulfill a campaign pledge by President Obama to end the ban. The president has spent recent weeks reassuring frustrated gay activists, upset with the pace of repeal efforts, and lobbying wavering senators for their votes.
His grassroots campaign network, Organizing for America (OFA), orchestrated a lobbying blitz this week that mirrors what Democrats did earlier this year to rally support for the sweeping overhaul of the nation's health-care system.
OFA, run out of the Democratic National Committee, e-mailed its millions of supporters Friday to press the urgency of ending the law while Democrats still control Congress. "If we don't seize this chance, there's no telling when we might have this opportunity," OFA Director Mitch Stewart wrote Friday.
The group delivered petitions with tens of thousands of signatures to wavering senators Friday to show that they are safe politically if they vote to overturn the ban, the DNC said. It is also staging events in the home states of Collins, Brown, Murkowski and Snowe and making campaign-style robo-calls in the home states of other Republican senators who might also support the ban.
But conservative activists are also trying to sway wavering Republicans.
"There is no reason to rush passage of radical, irreversible legislation, particularly when commitments were made to do so only after full debate" of the Pentagon's recent report on how to end the ban, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, a group opposed to ending the law.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) also repeated his opposition.
"The policy is a major change," he said. "There's all kinds of evidence that some people can accommodate change; other people feel like they can't accommodate the change."
Graham's close friend, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) - the most vocal Republican critic of ending the ban - did not comment Friday.
In a CNN interview Thursday, McCain said his son, Jimmy, who served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, is also opposed to ending the ban. "His words to me, as so many thousands of others' words have been to me, 'It isn't broke, don't fix it,' " McCain said.
The year-long campaign to end "don't ask, don't tell" almost derailed passage of the annual defense bill that authorizes most Pentagon policy. A new version passed by the House on Friday and poised to pass the Senate stripped out controversial provisions that would have ended the gay ban, permitted abortions at military bases and allowed the transfer of terrorism detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States.
Staff writer Philip Rucker contributed to this report.