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Advocates Push Reid on DADT Vote

Advocates Push Reid on DADT Vote


As the days dwindle before the congressional August recess commences August 9, "don't ask, don't tell" repeal advocates are angling for a firm commitment from Senate majority leader Harry Reid for a September vote on the defense authorization bill, to which the repeal measure is attached.

"We are asking of the majority leader the same thing that we believe Senator [Carl] Levin is asking, and that is to schedule the defense authorization bill shortly after the August recess," said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. "We would like him to make that announcement before the Senate leaves town at the end of next week."

A spokesman for Reid said the majority leader does anticipate a vote being taken in September but declined to give a definite date.

"We expect to have a vote in September," said Jim Manley.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of the gay veterans group Servicemembers United, said the vote's timing is at Reid's discretion and expressed frustration at the delay.

"Senator Reid, in his capacity as the Senate majority leader, has the power to bring the defense authorization bill -- with DADT repeal included -- to the floor of the Senate for debate and a vote," Nicholson said. "Senator Reid did not do that in July, despite the fact that Senator Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, confirmed the authorization bill is 100% ready to go."

The defense funding bill for 2011, formally called the National Defense Authorization Act, is typically considered a must-pass bill every year since it appropriates money for troops, weapons, and overall defense spending. But the bill has several controversial provisions, not least of which is a measure that would allow women serving in the military to receive abortion care at military hospitals if they self-fund the procedure.

Both the White House and Defense secretary Robert Gates have also said President Barack Obama would veto the legislation if it includes funding to build an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Striker Fighter -- a provision that is included in the House version of the bill.

In all, three votes are still necessary to send the bill to the president's desk -- the Senate version must be passed by the full chamber, and then after the bills go to conference to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions, each chamber will have to pass the final conference report.

But some advocates are concerned that delaying a Senate floor vote past September could push it into the lame-duck session in December, when the Pentagon's working group study on implementation is due to be released. They fear the study could provide an opening for detractors of repeal to scuttle support the measure, whether through an overt effort to strip it from the bill or through a secondary amendment to broaden the certification requirement beyond the president, Defense secretary, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs. If the service chiefs -- the respective heads of the military's different divisions -- were included in certification, for instance, repeal implementation efforts would be greatly hampered if not killed altogether.

But not voting on the legislation before the midterm election in November would be highly unusual.

"If the bill does not come up before the lame-duck session, this will be one of just a few times in the past 50 years that the authorization bill is not considered prior to an election," said Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign. "Certainly, there are vulnerabilities associated with that timing that we want to avoid."

Even if the Senate floor vote transpires in September, the final vote on the conference report may not happen until December. But Sarvis said he finds that less of a concern.

"It's one thing to be voting on the bill in the lame-duck, but it's another to be voting on the conference report in the lame-duck," he said.

Beyond issues associated with the bill itself, the Senate also has a backlog of other measures that are vying for attention -- comprehensive immigration reform, a climate bill, and a number of appropriations bills that must be addressed.

"In the end, I think the Senate will do what they normally do on defense authorization -- they will move it," said Sarvis, adding that a number of Democrats and Republicans alike don't want to appear to ignoring their commitments to the troops overseas.

In the meantime, advocates continue to lobby senators on the floor vote, asking them if they will vote for the overall funding bill, how they would vote on a measure to strip out DADT repeal, and how they would vote on a hypothetical amendment to broaden the certification process.

SLDN and HRC announced a joint partnership Thursday morning targeting key senators from 10 states on the vote: Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Virginia.
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