Pam Spaulding reports that America’s largest gay civil rights group last night laid down a clear benchmark for the Obama administration, Congress, the Democratic party and itself. Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese promised an audience of his organization’s donors and members that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell will be repealed this year.
Speaking at HRC’s North Carolina fundraising dinner, Solmonese committed, categorically, to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year:
And finally, finally this year we are going to bring down the discriminatory policy known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’…once and for all.
Just as interesting, Solmonese now agrees with the analysis of the gay Netroots, that the November elections could kill our chances for repealing DADT, or enacting any other pro-gay legislation. Thus, DADT repeal, and any other pro-gay legislation, must happen before the elections this fall.
I also get that there is a drumbeat coming from our community to put more pressure on, to make more demands of the President and members of Congress to get it done this year because who knows what’s going to happen at the mid-term elections and frankly they are right and our time is now.
This is rather significant what happened last night, for a number of reasons.
1. Solmonese laid down the gauntlet before the Obama administration and Congress. He has now said that this year we WILL get DADT repeal (and also federal employee domestic partner benefits, the domestic partner tax, and an expansion of HIV/AIDS treatment to those on public assistance). That puts the White House, Congress and HRC in a bind.
Currently, no one other than HRC thinks the DADT repeal effort is going well. In fact, both Barney Frank and Armed Services chair Levin, Nathaniel Frank of the Palm Center, and SLDN expressed their concerns about the administration and DADT repeal only a week or so ago. Additionally, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs refused to simply say that the administration wants DADT repealed this year when directly asked, twice, by reporter Kerry Eleveld in the past two weeks. And finally, Chairman Levin has repeated said over the past few days that he may push for a moratorium on discharges, rather than full repeal, this year, because he’s not sure if he has the votes (votes that he can only get if the White House commits to full repeal this year, and actually does something to lobby members of Congress to GET their votes). None of that bodes well for repeal this year.
So in sum, HRC, at a fundraising dinner, told current and future donors of their organization that if you support HRC, you will have DADT repealed this year. If DADT is not repealed this year, that will mean that Solmonese either lied, or that HRC is no longer an effective force in Washington politics. Either way, Solmonese just gave us all a clear benchmark for judging whether HRC is worthy of your continued donations. By October we’ll have our answer.
2. Just as significant was when Solmonese contradicted White House spokesman Robert Gibb. Gibb was asked by Kerry Eleveld, during the same conversation in which he refused to say that the President would like to see repeal this year, whether the uncertainty of the 2010 congressional elections didn’t make it all the more important that we pass DADT repeal this year. Gibbs said no.
There is increasing concern that Democrats may lose the House to the Republicans in the fall. In fact, veteran election analyst Charlie Cook said he can’t envisage a way in which Democrats hold the House. I’ve also heard Democratic strategists worrying that we may lose the Senate as well. If we lose the House or Senate, there won’t be a single pro-gay piece of legislation passed for years to come. Remember, the last time we lost the Congress it took 14 years to get it back. And even then, we’d need a pro-gay president to sign whatever pro-gay laws Congress were to pass. (And, as we learned over the past year, even having large Democratic majorities in the Congress and a “pro-gay” president doesn’t guarantee that any of their top promises will be kept.)
But even if the Dems retain their majority in Congress, everyone still expects Democrats to lose seats in the House and Senate. Consider how difficult it is to get anything pro-gay out of Congress now, with large Democratic majorities in each body, and how difficult it is to get the White House to do anything other than speak kind words about repealing DADT and DOMA, and passing ENDA. Now ask yourself, will the President and Congress be better or worse advocates for our civil rights if they get thumped in the next election?
What Solmonese did last night was confirm that if we don’t get DADT repealed this year, we may not see any pro-gay legislation for years to come. If HRC can’t get the President to actually commit to repealing DADT this year (the White House has outright refused) – and that means the President including DADT repeal in the DOD budget transmittal’s sent to the Armed Services committees over the next few months, and actually lobbying individual members of Congress to get us the votes we need – and if HRC can’t get Chairman Levin to push for full repeal in the DOD authorization bill, and can’t get Jim Webb and other Dems on the committee to vote for the repeal this year, then we likely won’t get another chance for years to come. That wasn’t what we were promised.
If HRC, the White House, the Congress, and the Democratic party are going to prove to gay and lesbian Americans, and our friends and allies, that their promises in exchange for our votes and donations mean anything, they are going to have to get DADT repealed this year.
I’m surprised that HRC would make such a clear-cut promise – with such a firm deadline, and such a clear-cut statement that if it doesn’t happen this year, it may not happen for a long time. I give HRC credit for putting its reputation, and its organization’s future, on the line by promising that DADT will be repealed this year. Come October, we’ll know if HRC, and the Democrats, still matter to our community.
3. What happened to ENDA and DOMA? Nowhere to be found on HRC’s list.