And if that happens, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell might not be repealed until 2024. That’s what happened the last time the Democrats lost the Congress – which an increasing number of observers fear will happen this coming November – it took 14 years to get it back. And even then, we’d need a pro-gay President in office, so as not to veto whatever the Congress passes. (And even then, as we now know, it’s possible that none of our top three priorities will go anywhere).
DADT repeal is in trouble. I worked on the Hill. I’ve worked in gay politics for 17 years, quite successfully. We’ve now heard Democratic Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the committee through which DADT repeal will travel, repeatedly say that he thinks a moratorium is a better, and more viable, thing to do this year. Levin even went so far as to say this on the day we introduced the actual repeal in the Senate, thus undercutting the bill itself. (And remember, we want Levin to include DADT repeal in the Defense authorization bill from the start since it’s much harder to remove a provision than to add one.)
Why is this happening? Because the White House has made clear that it doesn’t want DADT repealed this year. But, you say, the President said he wanted DADT repealed in his State of the Union, and we had all those good hearings? Yes, that’s true. But here’s the thing. The President has a track record of promising things and then not following through to actually make them happen. Think: public option. And as proof, just two weeks ago, Advocate reporter Kerry Eleveld asked White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, twice, to simply say that the President would like to see DADT repealed this year. Twice, Gibbs refused to say it. Chairman Levin, just a few weeks ago, complained that the administration was not making clear to him whether and how he should proceed on the repeal. At the same time, Barney Frank said the White House’s message on DADT was “muddled.” Hill staffers in the House and Senate were complaining that the White House had dropped the ball and it was hurting the repeal effort.
Which brings us to HRC. Today and tomorrow, the Human Rights Campaign is holding its board meeting in Washington, DC. HRC has repeatedly said that the White House has a clear plan for passing DADT repeal, and that the plan is on track. If there’s a plan, then why are Levin, Frank, and Hill staff saying the White House is basically MIA? Why did the White House spokesman refuse just two weeks ago to even say he wanted DADT repealed this year? Why do SLDN and the Palm Center both agree that there doesn’t seem to be a plan? Why is Servicemembers United having to practically beg the President to include DADT repeal in the budget transmitals sent to Levin’s committee – to no avail?
And why did Joe Lieberman, the lead sponsor of DADT repeal in the Senate, say only yesterday that the White House has not spoken with him about how to repeal DADT his year, nor have they even talked with him about “when” to repeal it? HRC’s secret plan is so secret that they haven’t even shared it with the chairman of the committee, or with our lead sponsor in the Senate. HRC’s plan is so secret that the White House spokesman is refusing to even say that he would like to see DADT repealed this year. Or maybe there simply is no plan because the White House is missing in action, as usual, and HRC is afraid to defend its own community and call the President out for not following through on a clear promise he made in our exchange for our votes and our money.
DADT repeal is in trouble. And all the phone-banks to Congress won’t amount to a hill of beans if the President isn’t on board. And he isn’t. And he is HRC’s responsibility. And HRC is claiming that he’s fine. So fine that the chairman of the committee is saying – yet again – that maybe we should do something short of a repeal this year on the very day the repeal legislation is being introduced.
I’ve lived in Washington for 25 years. I’ve worked in national politics for 20 years. This is not the kind of weak talk you want to see on the day you introduce legislation: the lead sponsor saying the White House hasn’t told him boo about how, or even if, we should move ahead this year, and the Chairman of the committee of jurisdiction suggesting that maybe we should just cave this year.
HRC President Joe Solmonese promised our community this past weekend that DADT would be repealed this year. I have no idea why he said it, because at this point, it simply isn’t happening. HRC knows that. And they know that President Obama is key to turning this around. Yet HRC issues another action alert today talking about the need to lobby Congress, and not a word about the President. (Their previous action alert was targeting John McCain – someone who no one thinks will ever support repeal – rather than targeting the key Democrats who have gone soft, and are holding up this entire effort.)
Please do call Congress. But know this. If the President isn’t on board – and he isn’t – Congress will not lift the ban. HRC knows this. You need to know it too. Someone on HRC’s board needs to confront HRC with these facts, and get an answer. Because we’re in serious trouble.