The House today passed a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, but it’s not clear that the Senate can muster the time or political will to move it to the floor before the end of the 111th Congress.
Only last week, Senate Republicans blocked a bid to repeal of the Clinton-era ban as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill. Democrats fell three votes short of the 60 votes needed to break the filibuster.
The House has now decoupled the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal from the defense authorization bill in the hopes that the repeal might pass on its own in the Senate. House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland called the 250-to-175 vote for repeal “a very strong statement that it is time to move forward.”
But little appears to have changed in the Senate, with Democrats still looking for three Republican votes to get to 60, since Democrats hold only 58 seats and Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia voted against repeal last week.
Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine voted for repeal last week, and she could be joined by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine this time. But it does not appear that Senate majority leader Harry Reid has made any headway on persuading moderate Republican Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to vote in favor of a repeal. Even if he does, Senator Reid is running short on time.
The deal to separate "don't ask, don't tell" as well as other controversial measures from the defense authorization bill, however, should help the defense bill pass.
“Because of the unique circumstances in which the bill is being considered and the importance of the legislation to our men and women serving in uniform at a time of war, we have agreed to drop many controversial provisions that were included in the House and Senate versions of the bill,” said Sens. Carl Levin (D) of Michigan and John McCain (R) of Arizona, the chair and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, in a joint statement released as the House was voting.
The House vote fell out mainly on partisan lines, with 15 Democrats opposing repeal of the ban and 15 Republicans supporting it.
Republicans opposing repeal say that the move will be disruptive to troops in combat. “We should not forget that we are fighting two wars,” said Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana, during Wedensday’s floor debate.
In a recent Pentagon survey, more than two-thirds of troops said that they did not object to openly gay men and women serving. But reservations were stronger among combat forces in the Army and Marines. Marine Commandant Gen. Jim Amos on Tuesday told Pentagon reporters that repeal of the ban could cost lives. “I don’t want to lose any marines to the distraction,” he said.
Recent polls show that a strong majority of Americans now favor repeal. Some 77 percent of those polled in a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey said that they supported allowing openly gay men and women to serve in the military.
Indeed, lawmakers say that they are seeing fewer objections from voters to a repeal than in past years. Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, who voted to repeal of the ban as a matter of civil liberties, says his office has received no letters from voters on the issue in the run-up to the vote.
“Feelings are not as strong as they used to be,” he says.