By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com January 15 2010 1:05 AM ET
The Advocate has learned that a closed-door meeting of about 20-25 LGBT advocates took place Wednesday at the Human Rights Campaign headquarters in Washington to discuss strategy for repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” at this critical juncture, according to multiple sources who agreed only to speak on the condition of anonymity.
The two-hour-long meeting was unusual in that it assembled the advisers to major LGBT political donors from outside the Beltway such as Tim Gill, Jon Stryker, and David Bohnett alongside D.C.-based lobby groups such as HRC, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, and the Center for American Progress plus the California-based Palm Center as well as lobbyists with ties to the White House and Congress.
The gathering resulted from a growing sense of urgency that 2010 is a make-or-break moment for repealing the military’s gay ban and that the White House would likely make a decision about how to move forward on “don’t ask, don’t tell” sometime in the next several weeks.
Participants declined to discuss specific strategy with The Advocate but said they mulled over how LGBT leaders would proceed if the White House decided to make a strong push for repeal or, alternatively, if it took a pass on the issue this year.
One source said LGBT leaders had sent “strong signals” to the White House that they want repeal to happen this year and that there would be “repercussions” if it did not. The source would not say what form those repercussions might take.
Some attendees expressed guarded optimism during the meeting because many in the room had “been guaranteed that this is a priority for the president” — some by President Obama himself and others by some of his top advisers. But one source weighed that against the fact that health reform was also a top priority for the administration and its passage has not gone smoothly. “There's an awful lot of distance between something a president says and actually making it come to light,” said the source.
Another hurdle, many felt, was that although advisers like White House deputy chief of staff for operations Jim Messina, Office of Political Affairs director Patrick Gaspard, and Domestic Policy Council director Melody Barnes are viewed as pro-LGBT, there’s really no single power broker in the White House who’s consistently pulling for LGBT causes.
Sources also indicated the ball is really in the White House’s court at this juncture. “They will be the ones who tell us how they’re going to package this,” said one source.
Those options might include the president and the Pentagon recommending that the policy change be included in the Department of Defense authorization bill that comes out of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees; amending repeal to the Defense funding bill once it has been reported out of committee; passing stand-alone repeal legislation in both chambers; or tabling the issue for a later date.
The Defense Department will send its budget recommendations to Congress sometime between February and early April.