Despite widespread Democratic election losses on Tuesday, President Obama isn’t backing off his effort to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” and thinks Congress still can act on the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian troops during the upcoming lame-duck session.
The Pentagon will complete its review of the 1993 law in early December, a timeline that would give Congress time to consider the issue before the end of the year, Obama said today during his post-election news conference at the White House.
The president added that repealing the law should not be a partisan issue.
“This is an issue, as I said, where you've got a sizable portion of the American people squarely behind the notion that folks who are willing to serve on our behalf should be treated fairly and equally,” he said.
But Republicans, energized after Tuesday’s election victories, might stand in the way of repeal this year. House Armed Services ranking member Howard (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., who will likely become the committee’s chairman in January, said in a statement before the president’s comments that the GOP wants a defense-authorization bill “that is not weighed down by the current majority’s social agenda items.”
The House-passed version of the authorization bill includes a provision that would allow a repeal of the law after the Pentagon completes its review and certifies that doing so would not hurt morale or unit cohesion.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s bill includes an identical provision, but the measure has been blocked from floor action by Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he discussed the floor prospects for the bill today with Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and still wants to consider it before the end of the year. Reid acknowledged, however, that time is an issue and added that he wants a time agreement before bringing it to the floor.
"The problem we have on the defense-authorization bill is that it takes so long to get done," Reid said. "If we can get a time deal with Republicans … that would be my goal."
Meanwhile, gay-rights advocates seized on Obama’s comments to push once again for repealing the law.
“We urge the Senate to heed the president’s call for action in the postelection session and look forward to his continued leadership in seeing this through,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Solmonese added that it would be a “travesty for a small group of senators to continue to hold hostage a bill with critical military equipment and pay raises just because they don’t want to debate repeal.”
In September, Democrats fell four votes short of the 60 needed to proceed to the defense-authorization bill amid partisan squabbling over “don’t ask don’t tell” and other issues.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen back repeal of the law. But some top military officials, including the Marine Corps commandant, have expressed reservations that have helped to fuel Republican efforts to keep the current rule in place.
Today, Obama also said that legal challenges to the ban have led to court decisions in recent weeks that have been confusing to military officials, who do not know what rules they are working under.
“We need to provide certainty,” Obama said. “And it's time for us to move this policy forward.”
Dan Friedman contributed contributed to this article.