Fate of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Remains Uncertain

The Pentagon has released its report. Congressional Democrats are all atwitter. But will Don't Ask, Don't Tell actually end this year?

The answer remains uncertain, with a clearer picture expected after this week.

As expected, the Pentagon's internal working group has found that ending DADT doesn't really carry a risk to U.S. servicemembers, doesn't threaten any U.S. military campaigns, and is supported by two thirds of troops and their family members, while 40-60 percent (a seemingly gigantic discrepancy between those two figures...) of Marine Corps and combat arms specialties think repealing DADT will have a negative impact.

Other than that last statistic, this is all supposed to create momentum for ending the policy. Some GOP senators had said they wanted to wait until the review came out before voting on it. Now, the review has come out, and that concern has been alleviated.

A big enough majority of U.S. senators support ending DADT for this policy, on its own, to pass.

The problems, however, are time and procedure.

The DADT repeal is included in the current Defense authorization bill, a big piece of legislation that usually takes weeks to pass, sometimes including hundreds of amendments that see votes and varying durations of debate. Republican senators, including Maine's Susan Collins, objected to voting on the Defense bill without bringing more amendments to the floor--amendments unrelated to DADT--when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it up for a vote just before the Senate's August recess. It appears there simply won't be enough time for the Senate to consider dozens of Defense amendments before the end of the year, and that DADT won't see a final vote before the end of the year.

That's the current GOP objection: A request to debate and vote on amendments, mostly unrelated to DADT.

The way to overcome this impasse, it seems, is for Democrats to strike a deal with Republicans on limiting the number of amendments considered, winnowing down the time it takes to bring the whole bill to the floor. Right now, no such deal has been struck.

Democrats will wait until at least Friday to try to reach an agreement with Republicans, according to Democratic congressional aides, apparently hoping to gain momentum for a DADT repeal as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and the leaders of the Pentagon's DADT review task force travel to the Hill on Thursday to testify in favor of ending DADT before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and after the Joint Chiefs themselves testify at another hearing on Friday.

Why can't the Senate simply vote on DADT as a stand-alone bill? A logical question, it would seem, but as is often the case with legislative procedure, there's a reason why it allegedly wouldn't work.

Democrats are worried that, if DADT is introduced on its own, outside the Defense bill, DADT's supporters will clamor to add poison-pill amendments to it. "You can't take a piece of legislation like this to the floor as a stand-alone," said Jim Manley, Reid's spokesman and communications adviser. "It'll attract amendments from all corners of the right-wing firmament." Hence the decision, made by President Obama and the Democratic leadership, to attach DADT to the Defense bill in the first place.

In the political fight over DADT, Democrats will likely pose the amendment-based GOP objection as "just another excuse," as Manley calls it. The Republican stance is that, hey, we just want to debate amendments like we usually do with Defense bills, and you didn't bring this to the floor soon enough. The Democratic response: We brought it up in August and signaled openness to amendments. The Republican counter-response: No you didn't, you rushed a vote on a Defense bill that included both DADT and the DREAM Act (immigration legislation) for political reasons as campaign season hit, so of course we weren't going to go along with it. The Democratic counter-counter-response: Well, the only reason it's taken this long is that you've objected to everything and gummed up the works in the Senate for the last two years. The debate goes on.

The testimony of Gates, et. al, will probably generate more momentum for repealing DADT, but whether that momentum is enough to convince GOP senators to consider fewer unrelated Defense amendments is, I suppose, anybody's guess.

When Republicans can simply run out the clock until they take the majority in January 3, there's little incentive to cut deals.