Debate Over 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Set to Take Center Stage

The Obama administration's push to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on openly gay troops will take center stage today with the release of a Pentagon report that includes a survey on how nearly a half-million troops feel about such a change.

The poll is expected to show a comfort level among service members for getting rid of the 1993 law, according to officials familiar with the 10-month study's results who were quoted by the Associated Press. Seventy percent predicted that lifting the ban would have "positive, mixed or no results," according to the AP.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and all three service secretaries have expressed their support publicly for repealing the law, putting them at odds with the senior military commanders who have either opposed repeal, expressed their doubts or withheld comment.

Gates and Mullen are scheduled to discuss the findings with Congress this morning.

The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said he wants to hold public hearings on the report in the coming weeks during the lame-duck session, so that lawmakers have the opportunity to press Gates and the service chiefs on any lingering questions about the report and its assessment of the impact of repealing the law.

However, with an unclear--but certainly jam-packed--lame-duck schedule, a spokeswoman for the committee said that the panel does not currently have any plans to hold hearings on the report before the end of the year due to time constraints. "Witnesses are unavailable this week, and it's unclear if members will still be here next week and beyond," the spokeswoman said Monday night.

"We hope that all of our members will take advantage of the briefing tomorrow to have their questions answered," she said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold its own high-profile hearings on Thursday and Friday in anticipation of floor debate as early as next week on the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill. The committee-approved version of the bill contains language that would repeal the 1993 "don't ask, don't tell" law after the Pentagon certifies that doing so will not affect unit cohesion, troop morale, or combat readiness.

Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., said he is "confident" there are 60 votes in the Senate to overcome a GOP filibuster that has blocked action on the defense authorization bill with the repeal language within it.  Efforts to end the military ban on gays and lesbians are far from dead, he said at a news conference alongside 12 Senate Democrats who favor repeal.

The House has already passed its version of the authorization bill, containing an amendment added during floor debate identical to the Senate Armed Services Committee's repeal language.