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White House Grudgingly Backing "Don't Ask" Repeal Plan

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This isn't necessarily how the White House planned it. But it'll have to do.

Last night, the White House Budget Director Peter Orszag informed members of Congress backing a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that the administration is backing their proposal to repeal the policy, which bars gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

Here's how repeal would happen under the plan: The House and Senate would vote this week to include repeal as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. But repeal would not go into effect until (1) a Pentagon study on the impact of repeal is finished on December 1st, and (2) President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen approve moving forward based on its findings.

It is not known how long this process could take, though it has the potential to be drawn out for years.

Still, gay rights advocates are celebrating what they see as the light at the end of the tunnel. The repeal plan was finalized yesterday in a series of meetings between gay rights groups and White House and Congressional officials.

The White House and military did not appear to want to deal with the issue now: Gates, in particular, has pushed for Congress not to take action until after the review is completed, and the White House has taken pains to enact repeal in close coordination with the military.

The Pentagon's frustration was evident yesterday when Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the following: "Given that Congress insists on addressing this issue this week, we are trying to gain a better understanding of the legislative proposals they will be considering."

Orszag's letter, meanwhile, was brief and to the point, less a celebration of the imminent passage of what is ostensibly an administration priority and more simply a dry acknowledgment of support.

But pressure from the Democratic base - and political reality - is forcing the issue. The review is not scheduled to be completed until after the midterm elections, where Democrats are expected to lose ground in Congress.

If Democrats do poorly in the November elections, they may no longer have the votes to do this," said CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss.

"The Pentagon was caught flat footed by this sudden change in the legislative landscape," adds CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin.

Gates this morning agreed to back the plan.

Said spokesman Morrell: "Secretary Gates continues to believe that ideally the DOD review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the Don't Ask Don't Tell law. With Congress having indicated that is not possible, the Secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."

Gay rights groups shouldn't celebrate yet: It is not clear that Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, has the votes to attach repeal to the bill in committee. He is believed to be at least one vote short of the 15 votes he needs, though up to six senators are reportedly wavering.

In a letter yesterday, Levin, Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Rep. Patrick Murphy asked for the administration support for their compromise plan that they ultimately received.

"It is our firm belief that it is time to repeal this discriminatory policy that not only dishonors those who are willing to give their lives in service to their country but also prevents capable men and women with vital skills from serving in the Armed Forces at a time when our Nation is fighting two wars," they wrote.

In response to word of the deal, Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, complained that Democrats are disregarding "the views of our troops and [using] the military to advance the political agenda of a radical special interest group."

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