Eyes On The Clock For DADT Repeal Advocates After Pentagon Report

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The release of the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review yesterday brought a collective sigh of relief from the gay advocacy and progressive organizations lobbying for the policy’s repeal. Now, they say, they can zero in on the senators who told them this summer that they couldn’t vote for repeal until the review was done.

“It’s probably one of the best tools repeal advocates can us in the Senate lame duck session,” Aubrey Sarvis, the head of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said yesterday.They even have Defense Secretary Robert Gates on their side, who yesterday said the Senate must pass repeal to avoid his “greatest fear” — that the courts will overturn DADT abruptly, leaving no time for the Pentagon to prepare for the switch with training programs.

But time is already running out. There’s less than a month before Christmas, and the Senate must also ratify the START treaty, extend unemployment benefits and make a decision on the Bush tax cuts. And today, Senate Republicans came together to say they’d block every piece of legislation until the tax cuts are done.

“Time is definitely not on our side,” Clarke Cooper, director of the Log Cabin Republicans, told TPM in an interview. “It’s incumbent on senators to get this [done] before the 111th sunsets. That’s your biggest challenge right now.”

Log Cabin is also working the judicial side, and their case led the Ninth Circuit to declare DADT unconstitutional. (The government is appealing.) Cooper said he, too, would prefer the policy be repealed legislatively — but said he doesn’t plan to “take the heat off” the courts.

“One of the vehicles for getting this done is court cases,” he said. “Our case has been part of a driving force in moving the ball forward.”

If the Senate doesn’t pass repeal now, the slate will be effectively wiped clean and the National Defense Authorization Act, to which the repeal is currently attached, will have to be re-approved by the new Republican-led House. And the incoming chair of the House Armed Services Committee is no fan of including repeal in the bill.

But advocates are optimistic that they have the votes now that the review has been released and says in no uncertain terms that the policy can be repealed with only minor disruption at first and no long-term harm to the military.

As for Sen. John McCain’s new argument that the review itself is flawed, the advocates brushed it aside, as Gates himself recently did.

“We’ll have this cacophony of ridiculous excuses we’ll now see. This is just one of them,” said Winnie Stachelberg, an executive at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. “This can’t be an argument about what will make McCain happy. The question is whether he’s going to speak for the Republican caucus.”