May 25, 2010— -- 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.
'Don't Ask Don't Tell' Compromise Could End Policy By Year's End
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."
"I don't agree that we have to accept compromises when there's complete injustice," Choi said today in an interview with ABC News. "As far as we're concerned, we have a responsibility to continue asking, when are you going to fully repeal discrimination, when can soldiers finally tell the truth about who they are and who they love, when is integrity going to be restored, and the question when hasn't been answered yet so no I'm not satisfied."
Gay and lesbian groups mostly backed the compromise, with cautious optimism. The groups stressed that more needs to be done in making sure the repeal is actually implemented.
"We are on the brink of historic action to both strengthen our military and respect the service of lesbian and gay troops," Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese said in a statement, adding that the compromise "puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation."
Republicans are vowing fight the proposal in Congress.
"The American people don't want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda. And House Republicans will stand on that principle," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind.
Tony Perkins, the head of the conservative Family Research Council, issued a statement slamming the president for "forcing the military to embrace homosexuality just to pay off political supporters."
"This rushed deal is a tacit admission that after the November election, the Democrats are likely to lose a working liberal majority," Perkins said in a statement. "They want to get what they can now, and also far enough away from the election that it won't be prominent in the mind of voters."
A majority of Americans support lifting the policy that was implemented in 1993 under President Clinton. In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released in February, three-quarters of Americans said that gays and lesbians who disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the Armed Forces -- up from 44 percent in 1993. This included 64 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of conservatives and 58 percent of white evangelical Protestants who supported gays and lesbians serving openly.
ABC News' Gary Langer and Z. Byron Wolf contributed to this report.