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Democratic senator open to dropping 'don't ask' from defense bill

From Charley Keyes, CNN
  • Repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" included in defense authorization bill
  • Voting on repeal separately is thought to make it less likely to pass
  • Senator's spokeswoman says whether bills will be separate is "up in the air"

Washington (CNN) -- The senator at the center of the legislative tug of war over a vote on the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" said Tuesday the strategy on how it could be considered is "up in the air," according to a spokeswoman.

In what could be a be a major victory for opponents of a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, told reporters on Capitol Hill it is possible the vote on repeal could be considered separately from the defense authorization bill. Levin supports repealing the law, which bans openly gay troops from serving.

Levin hopes both the defense authorization and "don't ask, don't tell" are resolved, spokeswoman Tara Andringa said, but "how that happens is up in the air."

For now, Andringa said, the provision remains in the authorization bill.

McCain and 'don't ask, don't tell'

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who has said he will not support the repeal unless the military does, has called for the repeal to be stripped from the defense bill to allow it to proceed. Doing so would certainly lessen the chance of the repeal being passed, because having the repeal as part of the defense authorization bill means senators who oppose it would be forced to make a politically risky vote against military spending as well.

Several senators on the fence about the repeal are waiting for a report by the military, expected December 1, on the impact of a proposed repeal. Two senators, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, sent a letter Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking for an earlier release of the report. While Congress awaits the report, it will not consider the defense bill.

"The soonest possible release of the working group's report could therefore be instrumental in allowing the defense bill to move forward," the senators wrote in the letter.

But the working group ordered by Gates to poll the military and families and evaluate other fallout from the policy change seems to be sticking to its schedule of having the final report on his desk December 1.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said late Tuesday, "The working group remains on schedule to deliver the final report to SecDef on 1 December."

Gay groups in support of repealing the ban were quick to oppose the idea of separate votes.

"This is no time to lose our resolve. Chairman Levin has been our advocate and we have every reason to believe that he will continue to push to end this unjust and discriminatory law," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign. "DADT came into being by way of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] and it should be removed by the NDAA. This can and must get done."