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View from Washington Waiting To Thaw


The LGBT movement exited last week with a good bit of momentum toward ending the military's ban on gays and lesbians serving openly, but a deep freeze settled over Washington this week as a record-breaking 55 inches of snowfall pretty much ground the government to a halt.

One victim of Mother Nature's frigid frenzy: a "don't ask, don't tell"-specific hearing that was scheduled for February 11 and would have kept discussion of the policy in the spotlight.

But amid the racket of snowplows and the spinning wheels of hapless cars, several legislative staffers on Capitol Hill (otherwise known as "Democratic aides" in anonymous sourcing parlance) stepped forth to point a finger of discontent at the White House on "don't ask, don't tell" in a Politico article.

"House Democratic leadership aides tell Politico they are growing increasingly worried over the lack of a detailed White House road map for passing a repeal -- and that without such a road map, repeal will end up in the same kind of Senate gridlock that hobbled health reform," the article notes.

On the positive side, the article marks a step forward in thinking on the Hill from last week when lawmakers were in equal disarray on how to proceed legislatively -- full repeal, moratorium on discharges, or do nothing in 2010 -- but seemed relatively unconcerned with the lack of clarity.

Unfortunately, the administration's response in the piece should strike fear in the heart of any pro-repeal activist with a pulse.

"White House officials dismiss such concerns and say the president's commitment to rolling back the policy is iron-clad -- even though he plans to leave the details to Hill Democrats," read the article.

Let's keep in mind just how rock-solid this strategy proved to be with health reform -- the president's biggest priority.

Meanwhile, the rest of America is laboring under the assumption that an outmoded policy that compromises our national security is headed for the trash heap -- and apparently feels pretty good about it.

An ABC/Washington Post poll this week found that fully 75% of Americans support allowing openly gay people to serve in the military. A New York Times/CBS poll also yielded strong results, though the support varied based on the way the question was asked. When asked if "homosexuals" should be able to serve in the military, 59% responded "yes," whereas 70% responded affirmatively on the question of whether "gay men and lesbians" should be allowed to serve.

One gay military group that braved the barren tundra of leadership this week was Servicemembers United, which floated a new plan geared toward passing repeal legislation this year while allowing the Pentagon to complete its review/implementation plan over the next 18 months.

The proposal first went public Wednesday, and by Friday, executive director Alex Nicholson said several Senate offices on the Hill had expressed interest. Though Servicemembers United has invested more time in the past building relationships with moderate senators, according to Nicholson, "a lot of progressive offices have asked to talk about this in more detail next week."

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also threw an idea into the mix: adding an amendment to the budget resolution that would place a moratorium on discharges and investigations under the policy. But just how serious her proposal was remains unclear, since none of the gay lobbying groups seemed to have heard about it in advance of her announcement.

As a Midwesterner who grew up Michigan, I have never seen a city buckle under snowfall in the manner of D.C.

Last year, when President Obama -- newly delivered from Chicago -- got a whiff of it, he chided, "When it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things ... We are going to have to apply some toughness to this town."

That was on January 28, 2009, not two weeks into his nascent presidency, when Obama seemed both bold and emboldened with a mandate to change Washington.

As it turns out, his administration has had its own trouble clearing the way for legislative achievement in this town. But health reform has befuddled more than one president over the course of a century and was perhaps bound to confound. Repealing "don't ask, don't tell" is now there for the taking, if only the intent of this administration crystallizes as Washington emerges from its wintry slumber.

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