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View From Washington: D-Day

View From Washington: D-Day

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House speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn't play the role of soothsayer all that often, which made her remarks on "don't ask, don't tell" all the more interesting.

"I don't have any doubt that 'don't ask, don't tell' will be a memory by the end of this year," she told The Hill Thursday.

While repeal advocates surely relished the prediction, it did little to cut the tension in Washington as everyone waits to exhale. Toward the end of next week, both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee will be voting on the National Defense Authorization Act, the best legislative vehicle for a repeal measure.

But Rep. Barney Frank wasn't quite so sanguine about the vote count Thursday afternoon. "I believe they are there in the House. I don't know where they are in the Senate," he said. Advocates familiar with the issue continue to say Levin is two votes -- or maybe even one -- away from sealing the deal.

Rep. Patrick Murphy's staff is working to make the House language consistent with whatever might be offered in the Senate Armed Services Committee. But Frank explained that adjustments to the language continue as Murphy and senators Carl Levin and Joe Lieberman assess what their colleagues will and won't vote for.

If key lawmakers are more drawn to a repeal measure that includes what people refer to as "delayed implementation" -- meaning instead of taking effect right away, repeal would take place sometime after the Pentagon's report is completed in December -- then that approach could be included in the language.

"It's conceivable that could be in there," Frank said. "That I think will be determined by what it takes to get the majority."

Frank said Murphy would offer his repeal measure as an attachment when the the defense bill comes up for a vote in the House Thursday, which might be the same day the provision is considered in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Though some advocates have theorized that it would be favorable to have the Senate committee vote on repeal first, Frank said that was a sideshow.

"It makes no difference whatsoever. If the political will is there, if the votes are there, it will get worked out," he said, adding that people who support repeal would do better to contact their lawmakers. "All this energy trying to figure out which bill should go first and not calling senators to tell them they should vote for it is one of the reasons I worry."

Frank was not the only person girding for a battle next week. After the nation's largest veterans organization, the American Legion, sent letters to the Hill urging Congress not to change the policy, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network sent an action alert to all its members imploring them to contact their legislators and push for repeal.

"This is our 'all hands on deck' moment," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director for SLDN. "For repeal to succeed, it is critical that all proponents for full repeal weigh in now, including the White House. We are only a few days away from this historic vote."

Sarvis told The Advocate that staffers of key offices on the Hill had reached out to the organization to get the message out. "We are hearing from the Hill that proponents of repeal need to be heard louder and clearer that they support a vote for repeal next week."

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates registered their discontent this week about the fact that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act had yet to be scheduled for a vote.

"Despite a record number of sponsors and endorsements for passage of this landmark civil rights legislation, ENDA remains locked in committee as the clock winds down on the opportunity to act," Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said at a Tuesday press conference in Washington.

She has a point -- looking at the congressional calendar, there are only about a dozen weeks left during which a vote can be taken.

Since DADT is sure to dominate next week, Frank acknowledged that the ENDA vote would have to take place after the first week of June, when Congress returns from recess.

"This also means that ENDA will come up sometime in June and July," he said. When I asked if he was still confident a vote would take place, he didn't hesitate. "Yes."

Pelosi held a conference call with a number of LGBT groups earlier this week during which she suggested that a positive outcome on DADT would smooth the way for ENDA. But activists were not assuaged, staging protests throughout the week at Pelosi's district office in San Francisco, Sen. Dick Durbin's Chicago office, and on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers and advocates have consistently said they have the votes to pass a transgender-inclusive ENDA in the House but are concerned about Republicans offering a hostile amendment to the bill that would in some way decrease the protections for trans people. Lawmakers are counting votes for both final passage of the bill and how members might vote on the amendment, which is known as a "motion to recommit." But anticipating the nature of that motion is impossible since Republicans will not have to offer the language until just moments before the vote.

"That's one of the problems because we're whipping something and we don't know exactly what it is," Frank said.

But Mara Keisling, executive director of the Nation Center for Transgender Equality, said the potentiality of a hostile motion to recommit was no reason to delay or forgo a vote.

"Are they going to do that to ENDA? They're doing it to everything," she said of the GOP's pervasive use of the tactic on varied legislation. "So I don't think we're any more worried about a gender identity motion to recommit at this point than we are about a mischievous, shameful, cynical motion to recommit that could include gay people, could include trans people -- we just don't know. But advancing human rights is sometimes about taking risks."

The other piece of legislation that resurfaced in the news this week after a long hibernation was the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal workers. Democratic aides say the bill will be ready for consideration in the Senate by early July, though no vote has been scheduled. But the original holdup -- how to pay for the bill, which carries a price tag of $310 million -- has been cleared up.

"We'll be able to pay for it," Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the bill's chief sponsor in the House, said several weeks ago. Baldwin explained that the Office of Personnel Management had provided her with information about an offset, which will keep the bill budget neutral. But the last thing lawmakers want to do is make that information public, she added. "Somebody else will grab it before I'm ready to take the bill to the floor because everyone wants money to pay for their bill." A Senate Democratic aide confirmed the same for the Senate.

In that same conversation back in March, Baldwin echoed Keisling's sentiments on ENDA.

"Seldom on issues of great import -- health care or energy policy or ENDA -- do we go on to the floor with 100% certainty of outcome," she said. "So you have to take some level of risk, and I absolutely urge my leadership to do that."

Pro-equality lawmakers and LGBT activists alike seem increasingly aware that some shot is better than no shot at all -- and no shot at all is exactly the prospect they may face following the midterms.
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