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Repeal Advocates Pressure Senate Dems

Repeal Advocates Pressure Senate Dems

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Repeal advocates are mounting an effort to push back on Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia for voting against "don't ask, don't tell" repeal in committee in order to keep other Democrats from doing the same on the Senate floor.

"We hope that Virginians will not give Senator Jim Webb a pass on his vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee to keep 'don't ask, don't tell' on the books," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "His vote was against equality, and fair-minded Virginians should take exception."

One of those Virginians is retired Navy captain Joan Darrah, who served in silence for nearly 20 years and felt betrayed by Webb's vote after speaking with the senator twice about ending the gay ban.

"I felt that Senator Webb was open-minded and supportive of repeal as long as there was a well-thought-out implementation plan," she said of those conversations. "The current legislative proposal includes such a plan, so I was very disappointed with his vote in committee."

Sarvis said holding Webb accountable for his committee vote is an important part of sending a message to Webb's counterpart, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, that voting against repeal on the Senate floor will have consequences among his constituents.

"It is our hope that Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia will do the right thing when the defense bill is debated and voted on the Senate floor," he said.

Advocates are gearing up for two potentialities: needing 60 votes to overcome a filibuster of the entire National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding for the nation's defense programs and the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, among many other things; and needing 51 votes to defeat what some refer to as a "killer" amendment that might negate the DADT repeal measure or significantly alter its intent.

SLDN and other organizations are in the process of developing a list of Senate Democrats who might be inclined to vote in a way that could jeopardize repeal efforts. "We have had meetings all last week and this week with member offices and we're firming up the list of whom we need to shore up support with," said Trevor Thomas, a spokesperson for SLDN. Although they are still engaging lawmakers, Thomas anticipated the list would include "about a handful" of Democratic senators.

Sarvis said it was "critical" for those who favor repeal to contact their senators and urge them to "follow the lead" of the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, who will oppose attempts to strike repeal or weaken the measure's language.

The NDAA is an especially complex piece of legislation that must eventually be passed in order to provide funding for the nation's defense but also has multiple parts that lawmakers or the executive branch might object to. For instance, the White House has issued a veto threat over a provision in the House version of the legislation that provides $500 million to fund development of an engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Nonetheless, blocking funding for defense programs and troops overseas is difficult for most lawmakers to defend, especially those who come from conservative districts.

R. Clarke Cooper, the newly appointed executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, has been meeting with key GOP senators, many of whom sit on the Armed Services Committee, and said he has found little support for blocking the entire NDAA.

"I've met with nine Senate offices, and there seems to be no interest in a filibuster," he said, declining to get specific about which senators he had seen.

In terms of pushing for some type of killer amendment, Cooper said the GOP offices he had engaged were indicating neutrality at this point.

"None of the nine could guarantee issuing a statement in support of repeal, but they did guarantee that they wouldn't make statements against it," he said.

Cooper added that none of the staff members at those offices said they were aware of amendment language circulating.

But the Senate floor debate is still weeks if not months away.
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