By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 9, 2010 ( – The fate of the U.S. federal ban on homosexuals serving in the military is uncertain, with some signals indicating that the Senate is backing down from passing a repeal. At the same time, the White House is pushing aggressively for a repeal in the lame duck Congress, saying it is now or never.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the committee’s ranking Republican, were discussing how to strip the repeal of a 1993 law (10 U.S.C 654) banning homosexuals from serving in the military, from a $726 billion defense bill. The law is commonly referred to by the acronym DADT “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which actually refers to a Pentagon directive on how to implement the 1993 law.

But the White House fired off a stern message to reporters as soon as it caught wind of the Senate’s plan to strip the DADT-repeal amendment out of the bill.

“The White House opposes any effort to strip ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ from the National Defense Authorization Act,” communications director Dan Pfeiffer emailed to reporters last night.

If the Senate fails to approve the repeal of DADT in the lame-duck session, then the measure will be dead with the start of a new Congress in January.

DADT’s repeal remains one of the contentious issues holding up debate of the FY2011 Defense Authorization bill. The other is an amendment offered by Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) that repeals the ban on performing elective abortions at U.S. military bases.

With those issues at stake in the defense bill, two Arkansas Democrats, Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, have crossed the aisle to join McCain’s GOP-led filibuster, blocking a move to open up the bill for debate in the Senate.

Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was hoping to convince the GOP’s liberal ladies, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, to vote with Democrats to break the GOP filibuster. However, Collins and Snowe objected that GOP amendments were not getting any consideration, and for that reason they would not vote to advance the bill. 
Meanwhile Defense Secretary Robert Gates has indicated that repeal of DADT would have to take place in the lame-duck session that starts on November 15, but did not sound confident about the White House having success on that front.

“I would like to see the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I’m not sure what the prospects for that are and we’ll just have to see,” Gates said at a recent defense meeting in Melbourne, Australia.

At least three Senators-elect will be seated during the lame-duck session to fill out the remainders of vacant terms.

In Delaware, Sen.-elect Chris Coons will be seated immediately to fill out the rest of the term in Vice President Joe Biden’s seat.

Pro-life Democrat Sen.-elect Joe Manchin, who will fill the seat of deceased Sen. Robert Byrd, indicated during the campaign that he would vote against repeal of DADT. The Democrat, who campaigned on the promise that he would not be a “rubberstamp” for the Obama agenda, said he could not vote to repeal while the battlefield commanders remained opposed.

So far, the U.S. chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have expressed public opposition to repeal of DADT, especially when the armed forces are under heavy strain from this wartime footing.

However, a Pentagon study on repeal of DADT is set to be released by December 1, which could end up providing political cover to Senators on the fence.

Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, a Republican who has supported gay-friendly legislation, but opposes repeal of DADT, will not be able to take his seat in the early lame-duck. The Illinois Board of Elections says it needs time to certify the result. Kirk is expected to take his seat by Nov. 29, in time for the December portion of the lame-duck session.

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