King of the Cabin
BY Neal Broverman
June 30 2010 4:20 PM ET
My first week on the job was the week the Senate [Armed Services] Committee voted on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." The week of May 25, the full House voted on the Murphy amendment [adding DADT repeal] to the defense authorization bill, so I had a shotgun start. I did not have a honeymoon. I was spending my time meeting with committee members and Republican leadership. One of the things I was doing was gathering the number of Republicans at different tiers — some who said they would vote for the Murphy amendment, others who said they couldn't vote for the full amendment but would vote for the full bill. And others who would may be just absent or present at that time. Again, I'm proud to say we did get some votes. I'm convinced we could have gotten more at different levels had I been on the job longer, but it was the best I could do with such a tight window. I'm currently doing follow-up on the Senate, and I've met with nine Senate offices this week regarding follow-up on the full Senate vote. Next week I have another seven appointments set up throughout the week.
On one hand, it's easy. I only have to focus on Republicans. But nonetheless, it's the high volume of folks to meet with. We have some members who voted, for example, in the House, for the defense bill, but they didn't vote for the amendment. Of course I had a number of chapter presidents quite upset, justifiably, why certain members didn't vote for the amendment but voted for the bill, and as you've seen happen, some of the primaries have been very difficult. This is where I have to look at members of Congress in shades of gray because everything isn't black-and-white. So, not that these are official tiers, but my tier 1 Republicans, we don't have to worry about. They're the ones we can always count on. They are the Susan Collins [the gay-friendly senator from Maine] of the world, they are the Ron Pauls (the Texas congressman), or the Ileana Ros-Lehtinens.
Then there's the tier 2 members who have said good things in the press or on floor statements or have a good voting record on certain items like Todd Platts of Pennsylvania or Mary Bono Mack of California. They're good some of the time. And they can be brought along further.
Tier 3, which are a majority of Republicans, and from what I know of them, they are the ones who need a lot of education. They've never met with anyone from the Human Rights Campaign, but they are people who are willing to have the dialogue, and they have some very basic questions. Like "Is being gay a choice?" But they need to have somebody that they can reach out to. I've had a number of offices that I've walked into and I'm the first person to sit down with some of these members just to have basic conversations about the LGBT community, let alone legislation or public policy. And they're the ones who are probably going to take the most time on the education front. Their questions are so basic. I had one member I've known for years, and when I walked in his office and he said, "When did this all happen?" And I said, "When did I start? Monday." And he said, "No. When did you decide to be gay?"
Tier 4, the bottom rung, those are your realarch conservatives. They're the ones who have a history of rhetoric and have what some would call hateful statements and hateful positions. I'm not going to rule them out because I will meet with any and every Republican that I can. But for now, for expediency, I'm focusing on the tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 members of Congress.
What are the chances of Republican senators filibustering the "don't ask, don't tell" legislation?
I think the filibuster is off because there's no interest in supporting that, and I know [Sen. John] McCain's office finally came out saying, "We're not going there," and if they haven't said it, they will. But I know that every office I met with thought the filibuster was a bad idea for all kinds of reasons. You know, a filibuster would not have only been an issue for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," it would have caused greater problems with the larger defense authorization package. And so, there's this whole issue of, Do Republicans want to be perceived as the party of no on what is known as a must-pass piece of legislation? I can honestly say not one of the members or their staff that I met with indicated that they supported that.
One of the things I've asked when I meet with Republicans on "don't ask, don't tell" is, "If you're not comfortable in publicly stating your position on on the repeal, as far as being for it, or if certain votes at a certain time aren't comfortable for you, at a minimum, could you ensure that you or any staffers make sure nothing comes out that can be perceived as antirepeal or pro-ban on gay and lesbians in the service?" So that's a consistent promise across the board, House and Senate, where the members I have talked to have said, "Yes, you won't hear rhetoric from me." The really smart members are understanding that being antigay these days is an exploding cigar and not a winning proposition.
Another consistency in Republican members is all of them want to see the commission report, being led by Gen. Carter Ham, brought to fruition. I have no reason to think that we won't have repeal. It's gonna happen.