Congress could vote as early as Thursday to repeal the controversial "don't ask don't tell" policy that prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. armed forces.
The White House on Monday signaled its support for a compromise amendment that would expedite a vote on the policy in Congress, but delay the implementation until the Pentagon has completed its almost year-long review of how to implement the repeal.
The amendment was spearheaded by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., an Iraq war veteran who will introduce it today as part of the House version of the defense authorization bill.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had requested that Congress not begin the legislative process to repeal "don't ask don't tell" until after the Department of Defense conducted its year-long review, which is expected to be completed by Dec. 1, 2010. In a letter to the House Armed Services Committee a few weeks ago, Gates urged Congress "in the strongest possible terms" not to repeal the law before the completion of the review.
A Pentagon spokesman said today that Gates "continues to believe that ideally the DOD review should be completed before there is any legislation to repeal the 'don't ask, don't tell' law," but "with Congress having indicated that is not possible, the secretary can accept the language in the proposed amendment."
Under the amendment, President Obama, Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen will send to Congress a signed certification stating that they've all considered the recommendations, the Pentagon has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement it, and that the new policy is "consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the armed forces."
Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said in a letter to Levin, Lieberman and Murphy that while "ideally" Congress would hold off on any legislative action until the review is completed, the administration "understands that Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now."
Democrats who want to repeal the military's policy are in a race against the electoral clock. Some supporters of lifting the ban are concerned about putting the vote off until after this November, when Democrats are expected to lose seats in the House and Senate and possibly could even lose control of the House.
But despite the White House's blessing, Democrats could face hurdles within their own caucus. Some Senate moderates have indicated they won't vote for a repeal until after the Pentagon has completed its review.
In the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., also opposes the bill.
Congressional aides say negotiations on the amendment are still continuing and that while talks are promising, Democratic leaders still have to ensure they will have the votes to pass the amendment.
Lt. Dan Choi, a 29-year-old openly gay service member whose discharge is pending, said the compromise is "absolutely not what we've been asking for."