Momentum Grows for "Don't Ask" Repeal, But Clock Is Ticking

gays in the military AP

Gays in the Ranks
FILE - In this July 4, 2009 file photo, military personnel join the march during an annual gay parade organized by Pride London, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender charity, in central London.
AP Photo/Akira Suemori

The military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may be on the cusp of being effectively repealed before the new year.

The House voted back in May to allow the Defense Department to repeal the 1993 policy banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Under the House provision, the policy could be repealed 60 days after the release of a Pentagon report on the impact of repeal (which is due December 1st) if military leaders, including President Obama, certify that repeal would not be disruptive.

A similar push in the Senate failed in September, however, thanks to a Republican-led filibuster. Advocates for repeal then pinned their hopes to the forthcoming lame duck session, fearing that repeal would have little chance in the new, more Republican Congress that begins work in January.

When she voted against the repeal provision (which is attached to the Defense Authorization bill) in September, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she actually supported repeal - she just wasn't happy with the way the bill had been brought to the floor. (Republicans, she said, had not been given enough opportunity to offer amendments.)

That means that Collins is a potential vote in favor of repeal in the lame duck session, assuming that the Pentagon report concludes the policy can be repealed with minimal disruption tot he mililtary, as leaks suggest.

Collins isn't the only Republican saying as much: Sen. Lisa Murkowski told KTVA in Alaska that she "would not oppose the Defense Authorization Bill because 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal...is included in it."

Murkowski told KTVA's Matthew Felling that if repeal "doesn't hurt the performance, the morale, the recruitment" of the military, according to the Pentagon report, she would not block repeal.

"There is, more clearly, a level of acceptance within our communities at all levels of supporting and providing for that level of equality to the homosexual community," said Murkowski, who this week declared victory in her write-in reelection bid. "And I think that's important to recognize that."

Two Senate Democrats (Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas) sided with Republicans to filibuster the repeal effort in September, which means that the support of Collins and Murkowski might potentially not be enough to overcome a filibuster. But there are rumblings that Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign may also support repeal, and yesterday Sen. Joe Lieberman, a strong proponent of repeal, said the 60 necessary yes votes exist. In addition to Collins, Lieberman pointed to Richard Lugar as a vote in favor of repeal.

"I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the defense authorization with the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we'll take enough time to do it," he said at a press conference, as The Advocate reports. "Time is an inexcusable reason not to get this done."

It can take up to two weeks to get something like this done with a full amendment process, as the Advocate notes, though Lieberman said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell could negotiate that timeframe get that down to a week. Lieberman and the other senators present said they would be willing to work weekends and up until Christmas Eve to get repeal done.

Ultimately, then, whether or not "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" gets repealed will come down to Democratic priorities -- as well, potentially, to McConnell's willingness to streamline the process. (Murkowski, for one, is already complaining that Reid is trying to "rush through" a "Don't Ask" repeal despite having more important issues on his agenda.) In a meeting with Democratic leaders yesterday, President Obama said his first priorityin the lame-duck is extending the Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 and individuals making less than $200,000.

There could be divisive and time-consuming fight on that issue, since Republicans want the cuts extended for the highest-earners as well. The president is also pushing hard for ratification of the START nuclear treaty with Russia, which will require serious Republican arm twisting. And he is pushing for passage of the DREAM Act that would provide a path to citizenship for certain young, undocumented Americans.

In addition, Congress is also trying to pass an omnibus spending bill to fund the government, deal with the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors, which will plummet without Congressional action, and pass an extension of unemployment benefits.

That's a lot to get done before January -- which is why that Democrats are now working behind closed doors to try to see which of these issues they will prioritize, and which they won't. Backers of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal are holding out hope that their issue falls in the former camp - but as they've learned more than once over the past two years, that's far from a sure thing.


Brian Montopoli is senior political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of his posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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