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White House Holds Meetings on DADT As Congress Prepares to Vote

By L.K. Regan

As a potentially final vote on Don't Ask Don't Tell looms later in the week, members of Congress are meeting with White House officials today to discuss a strategy for going forward. Are we in the final days of this policy?

Today White House officials are in extensive talks with congressional lawmakers and gay rights activists, trying to find a path to passage for a repeal of DADT. In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Obama called for an end to the policy, and congressional hearings followed up on the idea, but they began with a Pentagon study of the issue. That study is not complete, but legislators are pushing ahead with plans to vote on repealing the policy anyway. Fearing a defeat in Congress, the White House has spent the day in talks, trying to negotiate a solution.

This sudden urgency is the result of a push from Congress. The Senate Armed Services Committee is set to vote later this week on whether to end DADT by adding an amendment to the defense spending bill. The House of Representatives is also likely to vote on a repeal offered by Iraq war veteran Rep. Patrick Murphy, a Pennsylvania Democrat. Murphy's measure was left off the House's defense spending bill last week, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that ending DADT is at the top of her list of priorities coming down to the midterm elections; not only does she need to rally a political base deflated by long delays, but electoral losses in November could mean a closing of the window in which to get the repeal passed. In light of that, Pelosi seems ready to press forward. "I don't have any doubt that 'Don't ask, don't tell' will be a memory by the end of this year," the Speaker said last week.

How it will be made a memory is right now an open question. Many votes are in doubt on the Senate Armed Services Committee, as well as on the floor of the House. In order to try to negotiate passage, the White House has spent the day talking to gay rights activists, who are frustrated by the delays, and to the staffs of Democratic congressional leaders, who fear losing their seats in November. One option coming out of those talks appears to be an immediate repeal of DADT, followed by permission for the Pentagon to wait to act until its ongoing study of the issue is complete. The hope is to win over legislators such as Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who have stated a refusal to vote on DADT until the Pentagon study is complete.

If this compromise sounds vague, it's because it is—there is no easy way to get all of the necessary votes. At this point, if DADT is to end, it will be doing so in a nail-biter of a vote. Buckle up.