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Independent senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut is preparing to
introduce a "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill "probably early next
week," according to a spokesperson from his office. News of the
legislation was first reported Monday morning by James Kirchick, a columnist for the New York Daily News.
Lieberman press secretary Marshall Wittmann would not discuss the details of the bill. "We anticipate knowing more later this week," he said.
It's also not clear whether the bill will debut with bipartisan support. "We are in the process of reaching out to Republicans," Wittmann added.
GOP senator Susan Collins of Maine is a potential target since she sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has a strong relationship with Senator Lieberman.
The bill could mirror the House's Military Readiness Enhancement Act, for which Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania is the lead sponsor. Upon passage, MREA allows only 90 days for the Department of Defense to set forth new regulations on the policy.
But Lieberman's bill might also incorporate some recent considerations
that surfaced after Defense secretary Robert Gates told the Senate
Armed Services Committee during a hearing earlier this month that DOD was initiating a yearlong review of how to
implement a repeal.
Along those lines, a group of gay military veterans have introduced a plan, which they refer to as a "Set End Date/Delayed Implementation" model, that would achieve legislative repeal this year while still allowing the Pentagon to fully complete its review process.
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he had discussed the plan in the past couple weeks with several Senate offices, including Lieberman's.
"We've been working closely with them and they're definitely aware of the repeal plan we put forward," Nicholson said. "We're confident that they're taking it into consideration as they draft a unique Lieberman bill."
Nicholson said the stand-alone bill could also be incorporated into the Department of Defense authorization bill, also known as the National Defense Authorization Act, while the funding bill is still in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Repeal advocates generally agree that ideally a repeal measure would be included in the original draft of the NDAA -- or the "chairman's mark" -- before it comes out of committee, as opposed to either trying to add an amendment to the defense funding bill later or passing free-standing repeal legislation.
"It's of course possible for a stand-alone bill to be inserted into the chairman's mark of the NDAA, and we hope that will be the next step because I think that's safest option for getting 'don't ask, don't tell' repealed in 2010," Nicholson said.
Nicholson's organization has focused for the past several years on building relationships with moderate senators on both sides of the aisle and said Lieberman was an ideal candidate to spearhead the effort.
That sentiment was echoed by Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
"He is a senior member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been a tireless advocate in eliminating all forms of discrimination and has demonstrated a real commitment to national security," Sarvis said. "Senator Lieberman is also in a good position to work on a bipartisan bill introduction and to win broader bipartisan support in Congress."
In a statement released by his office, Lieberman said, "I will be proud to be a sponsor of the important effort to enable patriotic gay Americans to defend our national security and our founding values of freedom and opportunity. I have opposed the current policy of preventing gay Americans from openly serving in the military since its enactment in 1993. To exclude one group of Americans from serving in the armed forces is contrary to our fundamental principles as outlined in the Declaration of Independence and weakens our defenses by denying our military the service of a large group of Americans who can help our cause. I am grateful for the leadership of President Obama to repeal the policy and the support of Secretary Gates and Chief of Staff Admiral Mullen."
Lieberman's announcement came at the outset of a week that will be infused with debate over ending the military's gay ban. The secretaries of the Army and Navy, along with their corresponding service chiefs, will be testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
After the strong statement supporting repeal made by Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen earlier this month, Nicholson expected some GOP senators would give the secretaries and the service chiefs the opportunity to voice their dissent. Gen. James Conway, for instance, head of the Marines, has been widely reported as an opponent of ending the policy.
"They're definitely going to be put on the
spot by senators who are looking for an opportunity to embarrass the
president and the Defense secretary and the chairman as a result of
what they said in their testimony," said Nicholson.
But he suspected that most of the testimony would be tempered and scripted rather than pointed and personal.
"I would hope that people of their stature and experience would fall in line with their commander in chief and support the stated position of the chairman," he said. "I think it would be very uncharacteristic of senior military officers to go off the reservation, express their personal opinion, and try to derail the process. But I definitely think we're going to see some people on the committee try to tease that out of them."