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Shortly after President Barack Obama pledged Saturday to end "don't ask, don't tell" during a speech to the Human Rights Campaign, the Administration's highest-ranking LGBT official
said the White House is speaking with certain senators about strategies
for repealing the policy -- specifically Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an
independent from Connecticut, who sits on the Senate Armed Services
"On 'don't ask, don't tell,' this administration is talking directly to the Hill -- we are in direct discussions with Senator Lieberman," John Berry, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, told The Advocate following the president's remarks.
A spokesman for Senator Lieberman confirmed that the senator had been speaking to the White House about the bill. "Senator Lieberman has had discussions with representatives of the Administration and others on the best way to reverse this policy, which he has opposed since it was first proposed in 1993," said Marshall Wittmann, Lieberman's press secretary. Wittmann gave no further information on the senator's plans regarding the legislation.
A House repeal bill that was introduced in March is being carried by Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and currently has 177 cosponsors.
Berry said on Saturday that the goal was to introduce Senate legislation with bipartisan support -- the same goal the late Sen. Edward Kennedy had always hoped to achieve.
People familiar with the strategy around Senate introduction say the discussions generally involve two different tracks: the bipartisan track, with at least one of the cosponsors sitting on the SASC; and a second track, which would be a Democratic introduction by someone who sits on the SASC.
Some reports have mentioned Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, as a candidate to sponsor the bill, but a source familiar with discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Reed was not a prime target.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, has taken a strong interest in the issue, but the fact that she does not sit on the Armed Services Committee makes her a less likely candidate to carry the bill.
Colorado Democrat Mark Udall is generally considered to be in the running given his position on the committee. During Senate hearings on the Defense Department authorization bill, Udall asked Adm. Mike Mullen to draft recommendations for changing the "don't ask, don't tell" policy before Senate hearings on the matter this fall.
Lieberman is generally seen as a strong candidate for carrying the bill given his position on the Armed Services Committee and his strong engagement with the military. Insiders also say the senator could use the legislation to burnish his progressive credentials, which might be a consideration for him based on his support for Sen. John McCain during the 2008 election and the fact that he lost his 2006 Democratic primary race to Ned Lamont.
Lieberman also has strong ties to Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, one of whom might consider being his GOP counterpart on a repeal bill. Collins cosponsored Lieberman's introduction this year of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act, which would extend spousal benefits to the same-sex partners of federal government employees.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the repeal lobby group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said during a symposium two weeks ago that he believed a bill was only weeks from introduction.
Though Sarvis said he preferred a bipartisan track, he added, "A number of other Democrats are ready for bill introduction and I suspect we may soon have a Senate bill introduced."
Contacted for comment Monday, Sarvis said, "SLDN is working with key senators on Senate Armed Services Committee and believes the White House is actively engaged to help facilitate a timely, bipartisan bill introduction and is also having critically needed repeal discussions within the Pentagon. SLDN is counting on getting repeal done in 2010."