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Signs of trouble for Dems who want to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell'

From Charley Keyes, CNN Senior Producer
  • Republican election victories may stop consideration in this session of Congress
  • Defense secretary, who backs repeal, "not sure what the prospects" of repeal are now
  • Senate majority leader: Senate Republicans "need to agree to at least debate the issue"
  • Senator's aide: Panel members discussing whether to strip repeal from defense bill

Washington (CNN) -- In the wake of the gains by Republicans in last week's election, the prospects for a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" appear to be diminishing daily.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that while he continues to support the repeal of the policy, which bans openly gay troops from serving, he does not see it as a foregone conclusion.

"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 told reporters traveling with him overseas this weekend.

The Senate returns next week for a lame-duck session of Congress. But with other priorities for consideration, there is a slimmer chance of a debate and vote on this contentious issue before the session ends around Christmas.

The spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent an appeal to his Twitter followers that they need Republicans to not block the bill. Reid "strongly supports repeal of DADT but he can't do it alone," the tweet said. Senate Republicans "need to agree to at least debate the issue."

But it is unclear if Senate Republicans even support its consideration now that the Democrats have lost their significant majority in the Senate.

The two top members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are talking about whether to strip the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" from the Defense Authorization Bill, according to an aide to Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the committee's ranking Republican.

"Senator McCain continues to have discussions with Senator Levin regarding the National Defense Authorization Bill. Among other concerns, the senator remains opposed to the inclusion of the provision repealing the 'Don't Ask, Don't tell' law," Brooke Buchanan, a McCain representative, said in a statement e-mailed to CNN.

The office of Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, would not confirm that the talks were under way.

The Defense Department ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military is the focus of litigation and legislation, but most of all, it keeps fueling a political and cultural debate that stretches from the battlefields of Afghanistan to the Pentagon to Capitol Hill.

Not surprisingly, senior military leaders do not agree on the policy change, even after Gates repeatedly said he supported scrapping the policy.

Gates has polled the military and military families, and a working group report that he commissioned on the effect on the military's rank and file hits his desk December 1.

Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, stirred the pot again this weekend when he told reporters in California that he opposes the change while the U.S. is fighting in Afghanistan.

The latest comments from Amos, ahead of the report being completed, seemed to surprise Adm. Mike Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman, while he was visiting Australia with Gates.

"I have great confidence that the review is tracking and will come in on time," Mullen said, according to a Defense Department transcript of what Mullen said in Melbourne. "I've met with all the service chiefs several times, and [they] understand the process as well as the timing of all this."

Amos was just repeating what he had said earlier and publicly during his confirmation hearing in October, according to Maj. Joe Plenzler, his public affairs spokesman.

"The question came up at a media roundtable," Plenzler told CNN. "His comments were identical to what he said at his Senate confirmation hearing."

Amos and Mullen talked by telephone Sunday, although Plenzler said he had no details of the conversation.

The analysis of the polling of the military had been completed, Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said Monday. But he said he didn't know if the report to Gates could be sped up in order to get the results more quickly to Congress. Many Republican members have said they do not want to vote on a repeal until they can see the report and hear the opinions of military leaders.

"It is the president's direction that it ["don't ask, don't tell"] be changed. The secretary and the chairman have spoken on that," Lapan said in his Monday morning conversation with journalists. "But the change needs to come from the Congress. It needs to take whatever action it does on the timeline it does."