Counting the votes: Enough to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell'?

It appears as if Democrats will rally enough votes in the House to pass a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.' The situation in the Senate is less clear, though the bill seems set to get through committee.

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/File
A protester held a sign during a Feb. 2 Senate Armed Services hearing on the US military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy regarding gay and lesbian service members.

Even as House Republicans prepare to mount a forceful defense of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which bans gays from the military, analysts say it’s likely the repeal amendment will pass in the House.

Congress may vote as early as Thursday on an amendment by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D) of Pennsylvania to the Defense Authorization Bill, which would reverse the ban on gays in the military but delay repeal implementation until the Pentagon finishes its review of the proposed measure.

President Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have both tepidly backed the proposal, but its passage hinges upon sufficient "yes" votes in the House and Senate.

Many Republican lawmakers – including some of the GOP’s leading voices on defense – are poised to vote against the repeal.

Counting the votes: Enough to pass?

Among them is Rep. Buck McKeon (R) of California, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

“The secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked Congress to respect the process they developed to study the ramifications of repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ ” Congressman McKeon said in a statement. “Republicans in the House feel we have a duty to honor that request…”

Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican, said he also opposes efforts to change the policy now.

“This 'don’t ask, don’t tell' issue, they’re going to try to jam that through without even trying to figure out what the impact on battle effectiveness would be,” Senator McCain said on Arizona’s KBLU radio.

Sen. Scott Brown (R) of Massachusetts, seen as a potential swing vote because he is a Republican who represents the Democratic-leaning state of Massachusetts, has also said he would vote against the repeal.

Although Republicans have said they would not ask their members to vote along party lines, there is speculation that they may vote as a bloc against the bill, which had bipartisan support in committee.

Still, analysts say the repeal amendment is likely to pass in the House.

“On the House side, the votes are there,” says Christopher Neff, deputy executive director at the Palm Center, a research institute at the University of California Santa Barbara.

Both Congressman Murphy, who is responsible for rounding up "yes" votes in the House, and Rep. John Larson (D) of Connecticut, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, have indicated they are confident they will have the votes, according to The Hill newspaper.

In the House, the repeal measure will be presented as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, which specifies the Department of Defense’s budget. A simple majority – 217 votes – is needed for its passage.

Senate vote coming into focus

The Senate may be more of an uphill battle, says Mr. Neff.

“The House is not the question mark,” he says. “The question mark is the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

Fifteen "yes" votes are required for the amendment’s passage there. Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine may have signaled a turning point when she indicated Tuesday her support for the repeal. Sens. Ben Nelson (D) of Nebraska, Bill Nelson (D) of Florida, and Evan Bayh (D) of Indiana, have all signed on in support of the bill.

Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virgina has said he will vote against the repeal.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia has not yet stated his position.

With Senator Ben Nelson indicating his support of the repeal Wednesday mid-morning, Neff says enough members had given public or private confirmations of their “yes” votes that the threshold had been met in the Senate for the amendment to pass.

With Ben Nelson, “that will do it.... The 15 votes are there now ... that will end DADT,” he says.

The vote’s timing – ahead of midterm elections – is crucial, observers say. Some Democrats who made promises to the gay community may feel they need to them to push through a repeal.

“Timing is huge,” says Aaron Belkin, a political scientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The political environment might become more difficult for Democrats after the midterm elections…. They might not get a chance again for a couple of years.”


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To repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' Obama has work ahead of him

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