Advocates Push Reid on DADT Vote

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com July 29 2010 12:45 PM ET

As the days dwindle before the congressional August recess commences August 9, “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal advocates are angling for a firm commitment from Senate majority leader Harry Reid for a September vote on the defense authorization bill, to which the repeal measure is attached.

“We are asking of the majority leader the same thing that we believe Senator [Carl] Levin is asking, and that is to schedule the defense authorization bill shortly after the August recess,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “We would like him to make that announcement before the Senate leaves town at the end of next week.”

A spokesman for Reid said the majority leader does anticipate a vote being taken in September but declined to give a definite date.

“We expect to have a vote in September,” said Jim Manley.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United, said the vote’s timing is at Reid’s discretion and expressed frustration at the delay.

"Senator Reid, in his capacity as the Senate majority leader, has the power to bring the defense authorization bill — with DADT repeal included — to the floor of the Senate for debate and a vote,” Nicholson said. “Senator Reid did not do that in July, despite the fact that Senator Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed the authorization bill is 100% ready to go.”

The defense funding bill for 2011, formally called the National Defense Authorization Act, is typically considered a must-pass bill every year since it appropriates money for troops, weapons, and overall defense spending. But the bill has several controversial provisions, not least of which is a measure that would allow women serving in the military to receive abortion care at military hospitals if they self-fund the procedure.

Both the White House and Defense secretary Robert Gates have also said President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it includes funding to build an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter — a provision that is included in the House version of the bill.

In all, three votes are still necessary to send the bill to the president’s desk — the Senate version must be passed by the full chamber, and then after the bills go to conference to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions, each chamber will have to pass the final conference report.But some advocates are concerned that delaying a Senate floor vote past
September could push it into the lame-duck session in December, when
the Pentagon’s working group study on implementation is due to be
released. They fear the study could provide an opening for detractors of
repeal to scuttle support the measure, whether through an overt effort
to strip it from the bill or through a secondary amendment to broaden
the certification requirement beyond the president, Defense secretary,
and chairman of the Joint Chiefs. If the service chiefs — the respective
heads of the military’s different divisions — were included in
certification, for instance, repeal implementation efforts would be
greatly hampered if not killed altogether.

But not voting on the
legislation before the midterm election in November would be highly
unusual.

“If the bill does not come up before the lame-duck
session, this will be one of just a few times in the past 50 years
that the authorization bill is not considered prior to an election,”
said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights
Campaign. “Certainly, there are vulnerabilities associated with that
timing that we want to avoid.”

Even if the Senate floor vote
transpires in September, the final vote on the conference report may not
happen until December. But Sarvis said he finds that less of a concern.

“It’s
one thing to be voting on the bill in the lame-duck, but it’s another to
be voting on the conference report in the lame-duck,” he said.

Beyond
issues associated with the bill itself, the Senate also has a backlog
of other measures that are vying for attention — comprehensive immigration
reform, a climate bill, and a number of appropriations bills that must
be addressed.

“In the end, I think the Senate will do what they
normally do on defense authorization — they will move it,” said Sarvis,
adding that a number of Democrats and Republicans alike don’t want to
appear to ignoring their commitments to the troops overseas.

In
the meantime, advocates continue to lobby senators on the floor vote,
asking them if they will vote for the overall funding bill, how they
would vote on a measure to strip out DADT repeal, and how they would vote on a
hypothetical amendment to broaden the certification process.

SLDN
and HRC announced a joint partnership Thursday morning targeting key
senators from 10 states on the vote: Arkansas, Indiana,
Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South
Dakota, and Virginia.