The leader of the Log Cabin Republicans said Wednesday that the White House is "MIA" -- or Missing in Action -- on Capitol Hill after he had met with nine Senate Republican offices about the effort to pass "don't ask, don't tell" repeal during the lame-duck session.
"I've been on the Hill yesterday, today, and the end of last week -- no one has reached out to Republicans. White House legislative affairs is AWOL," said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. "One office said, 'It's quieter than crickets chirping.' They'd love to get a call."
Legislative affairs is the arm of the White House responsible for liaising with Congress members on Capitol Hill and lobbying them on the administration's legislative priorities.
The White House did not respond to inquiries from The Advocate for this article.
Cooper, who has over a decade of lobbying experience including working in the Department of State in President George W. Bush's administration, explained that the Senate offices he had spoken with hadn't heard from the White House at all, not even to discuss passage of the larger defense funding bill to which "don't ask, don't tell" repeal is attached. He declined to name specific offices with the exception of noting that he had met with staffers for GOP senator Susan Collins. He said all of the offices were of senators who had voted against advancing the National Defense Authorization Act to the Senate floor for debate in September, but they had also all indicated an openness to switching their vote once the Pentagon's working group study of repeal is released in early December.
"For some, it's just a matter of having that box checked and the date done and gone," Cooper said, adding that other members wanted to review the content of the report before making a final decision.
The Pentagon study has reportedly found that there would be "minimal risk" to lifting the gay ban during a time of war, according to anonymous leaks in a Washington Post article posted Tuesday evening. The article said a draft of the report had been delivered to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week. Gates has been unusually vocal in the past several days about the necessity of passing legislative repeal, preferably during the lame-duck session.
Cooper said the biggest hurdle these offices foresee is timing, followed by procedural hiccups if the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, does not allow for additional amendments to the bill from Senate Republicans. Cooper estimated that processing the legislation would take at least three solid weeks of work, including the Senate floor debate, taking a final vote, and then producing the conference report that reconciles the House and Senate versions of the defense bill.
Cooper added, "We need to get the vote on the motion to proceed to debate done before Thanksgiving."
But the overriding message Cooper said he is hearing from these Senate offices is, "Wow, if the White House says this is important, they're certainly not telegraphing much of it. We're not hearing it from them either at a member or staff level."
Several advocacy groups and Hill staffers privately criticized the White House for not being active enough in the run-up to the failed effort to advance the National Defense Authorization Act in September. The only tangible outreach came in the form of a phone call Vice President Joe Biden placed on the day of the vote to Collins, whom many considered to be the linchpin because she voted to attach the repeal measure to the defense bill during committee proceedings last spring. But Collins, along with the GOP leadership, objected to the amendment structure majority leader Reid set up, and she ultimately voted against moving the NDAA to the Senate floor for debate.
In response to questions fromThe Advocatein October, White House press secretary Robert Gates pledged that President Barack Obama would be "actively involved" in lobbying senators to get the defense authorization bill passed.
"I anticipate, yes, that the president will be involved in moving that important piece of legislation that contains a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' in it," Gibbs said. "If that, Kerry, involves talking to senators, absolutely. Does that involve staff here talking to the staff of senators? Absolutely."
"The only really thing you need to do is make sure that we get two to five Republican votes in the Senate," Obama said during the interview with progressive bloggers. "And I said directly to the Log Cabin Republican who was here yesterday, I said, that can't be that hard. Get me those votes."
The Log Cabin representative the president referred to was R. Clarke Cooper.