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A spokesman for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Tuesday that the senator expects hearings on "don't ask, don't tell" to take place next month.
"Senator Gillibrand understands that Chairman Levin expects to hold the hearings sometime in October," said Matt Canter, Gillibrand's press secretary.
Kevin Nix of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which lobbies for repeal of the gay ban, said he also anticipates an October time frame for the hearings, but he added that nothing is set in stone. A spokesperson for Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, said no hearings have been officially scheduled.
Whether a bill to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" will be introduced prior to the hearings remains an open question.
"I think we are on the brink of a bill in the Senate," said Nix, though he stopped short of giving a target date. "Of course we've been talking about this for years, but the discussions in the Senate have never been this hopeful and optimistic."
Nix said SLDN has discussed sponsorship of the bill with the offices of "nearly every Democrat" on the Senate Armed Services Committee, including senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Jim Webb of Virginia, as well as independent senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine.
Other senators mentioned as people of interest on the Hill include senators Gillibrand and Ron Wyden of Oregon.
Conventional Beltway wisdom suggests it would be ideal to have someone who sits on the Armed Services Committee take the lead on repeal legislation. Two vacancies currently exist on the committee due to the recent passing of Democratic senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and the resignation of Republican senator Mel Martinez of Florida. But GOP senator George LeMieux, who has filled the Martinez Senate seat, was appointed to the committee this week and is awaiting confirmation by the Republican Conference.
Some insiders have speculated that Senator Gillibrand could be in the running for the Democratic opening since she served on the Armed Services Committee in the House and has taken an active role in orchestrating the Senate hearings on the military's gay ban this fall.
"It would certainly beef up her credentials for her reelection campaign," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noting that Democrats have an interest in bolstering her bid in order to retain control of as many Senate seats as possible. Senator Gillibrand, who was appointed to Hillary Clinton's former seat by New York governor David Paterson, was relatively unknown when she entered the Senate and began building her statewide profile almost immediately.
Gillibrand's spokesman said flatly that he had "no information" on the committee assignment.
"Right now, Senator Gillibrand is focused on working with colleagues to develop the right legislative strategy to repeal the policy," said Canter.
A White House spokesman said he had "no comment" on whether Administration officials had been in discussions with any senators about the bill.