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88 posts categorized "Congress"

December 17, 2010

Off we go into the wild blue Senate: key DADT repeal vote tomorrow

This could be it - Harry Reid has scheduled a cloture vote on the stand alone bill to repeal DADT for tomorrow, and if that is successful, the final vote could come later in the weekend or early next week.

 HR 2965 repeats the language regarding the process of transition agreed to last summer, and will take effect 60 days after the President and the Pentagon effectively declare that they are ready to pull the plug on this noxious policy. For the record, here's the operative language:

(b) Effective Date- The amendments made by subsection (f) shall take effect 60 days after the date on which the last of the following occurs:

(1) The Secretary of Defense has received the report [that was issued November 30].

 (2) The President transmits to the congressional defense committees a written certification, signed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating each of the following:

(A) That the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have considered the recommendations contained in the report and the report's proposed plan of action.

(B) That the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to exercise the discretion provided by the amendments made by subsection (f).

(C) That the implementation of necessary policies and regulations pursuant to the discretion provided by the amendments made by subsection (f) is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.

(c) No Immediate Effect on Current Policy- Section 654 of title 10, United States Code, shall remain in effect until such time that all of the requirements and certifications required by subsection (b) are met. If these requirements and certifications are not met, section 654 of title 10, United States Code, shall remain in effect.

(d) Benefits- Nothing in this section, or the amendments made by this section, shall be construed to require the furnishing of benefits in violation of section 7 of title 1, United States Code (relating to the definitions of `marriage' and `spouse' and referred to as the `Defense of Marriage Act').

(e) No Private Cause of Action- Nothing in this section, or the amendments made by this section, shall be construed to create a private cause of action.

(f) Treatment of 1993 Policy-

(1) TITLE 10- Upon the effective date established by subsection (b), chapter 37 of title 10, United States Code, is amended--

(A) by striking section 654...

ENDA, R.I.P.

Kudos to Chris Geidner, who has published an in-depth examination of the political moves that led to ENDA's legislative death this year. It's Rashomon-style history, which we've seen before - dispiriting, no matter whose story you believe. The piece is long, so I have excerpted it:

...As the members of Congress put in place the final priorities for the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress, nary a word has been heard about [ENDA] – the longest-standing piece of legislation, in one form or another, sought by LGBT advocates.

''It's dead for now,'' the bill's blunt House sponsor, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), said on Dec. 14. And things had started so well.

The bill had a hearing in the House Education and Labor Committee, with supportive testimony from the Obama administration. Then, Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) slated ENDA for a mark-up in the House Education and Labor Committee in November 2009.

But Miller canceled the mark-up and that was, more or less, the last that was heard of the bill, which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity for most employers with 15 or more employees.

Soon enough, ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' moved to the fore – both in Congress and in the public's consciousness. By January of this year, it already appeared that the employment measure ... had taken a back seat to ending the 1993 law banning openly gay or lesbian military service.

Even the spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) acknowledged this week, ''The long-agreed-upon order was hate crimes; ENDA; 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''' But, speaking with Metro Weekly, Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said, ''We then went into health care, and obviously that took much longer than anticipated.'' As Frank acknowledged, ''One of the things that delayed [ENDA] was the health bill – because it was in the same committee.''

Then, Hammill said, ''There were issues with the motion to recommit...Everyone thought we had the votes on the underlying measure, but it depended on what language the GOP [brought up] on the motion to recommit. 'Many felt it would be a troublesome sign to take it to the floor and not to be able to overcome the motion to recommit.''

Frank [clarified], ''What they were worried about was a motion to recommit, like saying that an elementary school teacher can't transition in the middle of the year.''

But, as Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) explained, ''[O]ur vote counts – for two sessions in a row – we didn't reach the same conclusion [as the House Democratic leadership] about the confidence in, not so much passage, but being able to defeat a motion to recommit.''

A House Democratic leadership aide, who asked not to be named to present an open assessment of the whip process, criticized the count of members or the advocacy organizations, saying, ''You'd have the whip check it or the speaker check it, and it wasn't there. At the end of the day, there were serious problems with the motion to recommit. People who they had on the list, people who signed on as co-sponsors because they never thought it would come to the floor…. The 'yes' was not there.''

Baldwin said, however, [that] "there's a reason why there wasn't a complete match-up. The conversation that individual has with the leadership whip team may not end up with his revealing how he's going to vote. He may simply say, 'I'm asking you, as leaders, don't bring this up. Don't make me take this vote. You're the ones who decide.''' But, when she or other members press them for how they would vote, she said, they get an answer, and she had a good deal of confidence in the ability to defeat a motion to recommit related to the gender-identity protections.

Frank was not as sure, saying, ''I'm not confident how it would have turned out. I think people in the community underestimate the opposition.'' He added that, without the gender-identity provisions, ''We clearly have the votes for that.''

Baldwin concluded, though, ''I certainly articulated, both sessions, that I felt we should move forward. I know others shared that.'' Frank, despite his reservations, agreed. ''I wanted to go to the floor,'' he said. ''I agreed with Tammy.''

[According to Hammill,] ''Everyone wanted to go forward. I don't think I disagree with that at all.'' But, he added, ''As you well know, and [Speaker Pelosi has] said this a number of times, moving on two priorities at the same time would be problematic and could endanger the outcome of both.''

...Hammill said, ''There was a decision made with some of the groups – some of them wanted to move forward with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.''' National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling said that, if such a decision was made, that was unacceptable. ''The problem,'' she said, ''is that they were signaled that it was okay to pick one over the other.''...

[Spokespersons for both HRC and the Task Force denied pushing DADT repeal in front of ENDA.]

As to the specter of a lame-duck vote on ENDA, which had been floated as a possibility throughout the summer and fall, Baldwin said, ''If I were to give you my best opinion on this, [chances of a lame-duck ENDA vote] disappeared when it became clear that if we had any chance of repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' that that would happen in the lame duck.''...

''[The delay] had to do with there being staff members in leadership who were afraid of the trans part,'' [Keisling] said. ''And leadership stalled on it. They stalled and they stalled.''

Other LGBT advocates concurred, with different advocates pointing to varying members of the Democratic leadership team as the individuals most responsible for holding back the bill from a vote. All, though, acknowledged that the motion to recommit was the main concern and that, because of that, Pelosi was unwilling to bring the bill to a vote.

Hammill, however, also noted another major concern for the speaker's office, saying, ''Possibly we could get it out of the House, but I don't think anyone sees a path in the Senate.''...

Despite Obama's ''continue[d] support'' of the legislation, White House spokesman Shin Inouye did not sound hopeful about passage of the bill in the near future, telling Metro Weekly of the president's view, ''As the public continues to learn about the need for this legislation, he hopes that Congress will take on this issue to help bring fairness and equality to our nation's laws.''

As to that education, Frank had a message for LGBT advocates, saying, ''In the interim what the community needs to do is educate on the transgender issue.'' The point was echoed by the Democratic leadership aide, who said ''there has not been the work done by the community in the Senate'' to ensure the passage of an inclusive ENDA.

As Frank said, ''I would point out to you that they still have not been able to get transgender protections in liberal places. If you can't do it in Massachusetts, New York and Maryland, it doesn't get easier when you add in South Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.''

December 10, 2010

It's not over til the last gavel strikes: How to repeal DADT this session

By Guest Blogger Michelle Benecke

Yesterday's Senate vote was disgraceful and disheartening.  Contrary to the claims of some, however, this fight is not over.  It is still possible to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) in this Session, if we have the will to fight.  There are at least two options:  amending the Omnibus bill pending in the Senate, and a stand alone bill.

The Omnibus spending measure is the one piece of legislation that will pass before the Senate goes home for the holiday.  It funds every federal agency.  While supporters would need to show "germaneness" under Senate rules, this should not be a high hurdle given the sheer breadth of the Omnibus and its many additional provisions for the Department of Defense.  Once it passes the Senate, the Omnibus would be sent to the House for a vote.

The White House could help by releasing Secretary Gates to ask Congress to include DADT repeal in the Omnibus.  Attorney General Holder sent such a letter recently concerning the Guantanamo detainees.  Ideally, Representative Pelosi or Hoyer, the House workhorse, would say publicly they would consider the measure if sent to them, cutting off any arguments for delay.  

On the stand alone measure, a Senate provision called Rule 14 is one way to do it.  Basically, if we have the stomach to take one or two more shots at this -- as we must -- supporters can introduce Section 591 of the National Defense Authorization Act (or a clean repeal) as a freestanding bill, and have it Rule XIV'ed whereby it will go directly to the Calendar, bypassing the usual Committee process.  Then they could work to get an agreement to take up this bill with no amendments and seek to get cloture on it.  Having the tax bill on the floor will buy them some time to tee it up.  If there is time left after taxes, they could give it one more shot.  If successful, this bill would be sent to the House for a vote. 

These paths are difficult, but they are absolutely possible.  Senator Lieberman is right in pressing to stay until the job is done.  Last year, Senator Reid (Majority Leader) kept the Senate in session 24/7 all the way through Christmas Eve to pass the health care bill, and he could do the same here to demonstrate this is a priority.

When I first developed the idea to start Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) more than twenty years ago, I was serving in the Army, surrounded by witch hunts and utterly alone.  Although I survived the witch hunts, I ultimately resigned my commission and reluctantly left the military because of the previous policy and the ethical dilemmas it imposed.

While today's military members now have somewhere to turn for legal advice (SLDN), they continue to experience profound isolation and ethical dilemmas because of DADT, which requires them to live a double life and forbids them from confiding in parents, friends, doctors, anyone without risk of being outed and discharged.  Like the sword of Damocles, this law hovers constantly, ready to take them out.

If we miss this window, it will be another five to ten years before legislation can make its way back to the fore - another five to ten years of living in constant fear for gay military members, having to guard against "friendly fire" under DADT even as they risk their lives fighting the enemy before them in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The time for repeal is now, in this Session.  Military members who cannot speak for themselves under DADT are depending on us.  It’s not over until the last gavel strikes. 

Michelle Benecke is a former Army Captain and Battery Commander, and a founder and former Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is dedicated to repealing DADT and has provided direct legal assistance to more than 10,000 military members under this law. 

 

December 09, 2010

Deconstructing DADT beltway-ese

Chris Geidner summarizes where things stood at the end of Wednesday on DADT repeal, heading into a possible vote today:

The repeal train was constantly teetering from side to side and likely almost fell off the tracks a few times, were it not for Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and a potentially repeal-saving blink from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Read in between each line, and you see a picture of today painted pretty clearly:

SENATOR COLLINS’ STATEMENT ON DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL NEGOTIATIONS
 
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who supports repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” [Noted.] released this statement tonight.

“Senator Joe Lieberman and I continue to negotiate in good faith with the Majority Leader [Collins is pretty directly claiming Lieberman as being on "her side" in this, which appears fitting in light of Lieberman's strong defense of her earlier today.] to try and come up with a fair process under which the important Defense Authorization bill could be considered in the limited time remaining in this session. [Important. Limited.] Without a fair process, the motion to proceed to the bill would likely fail in the U.S. Senate. [By acting in a way in which she gets to define the terms, however, she's pushing Reid.]

"Senator Lieberman and I requested a meeting with Senator Harry Reid last week [Both of them. She's making it clear that she believes she has been looking to reach a deal for a while.] during which we outlined a specific plan for allowing debate and amendments similar to how the Senate has considered the authorization bill in the past.
 
"It wasn’t until 1:35 pm today that I received a legitimate offer from Senator Reid [Slam. Without noting Reid's morning call for a "likely" vote this evening, she implies that any "bad faith" here came from him. Her qualifier of "legitimate," however, does soften the blow of that. Also, there are several sentences here that could prompt a response from Reid; this is the most clear of those.], which I consider a good starting point. [Negotiations are ongoing.] We made a counter offer which would provide sufficient time for debate, and includes protections to help ensure that Republicans would be able to offer a limited but fair number of amendments that are relevant to this legislation. [She did -- "15 guaranteed votes on amendments (10 for Republicans, and 5 for Democrats), and somewhere around four days to debate the bill" -- and he has it.]

"I am encouraged that the Majority Leader decided to postpone the vote he had scheduled for tonight. [This is true. Had he not, and had she held by her pledge to vote no, the odds are fairly certain that DADT repeal would be dead for the year. It would have set up a partisan vote, and Reid could have then attempted to use that to move on to a stripped-down NDAA. That would have caused an uproar, no doubt, but a losing vote tonight would have been a killer.] I urged him to do this so that we could consider the tax legislation first, which I believe could be on the floor as early as tomorrow and completed quickly.  At that point, I believe we could move immediately to the Defense Authorization bill under a fair agreement, and I would vote to do so. [This is could be essential for there being enough time left for the debate on the NDAA that Collins is requesting. It also appears to be the key to Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.)'s vote as well.] I would hope he carefully considers our proposal.  I believe we have outlined a very clear path forward for the Majority Leader to take that would allow this very important debate to occur." [It's this, as with the above statement about the "fair process," where one could question Collins's motives. Does she personallywant all 10 GOP amendments to the NDAA, etc., or is she pushing a partisan agenda regarding the NDAA in spite of her personal support for DADT repeal? That's not to make a judgment on whether she or Reid is the one being more partisan; it's just the obvious counter-point to the direction of the statement issued by Collins.]
 
###

The bottom line for today is that neither side blew up negotiations, Collins laid her demand on the table, and repeal prospects likely improved heading into Thursday.

 

November 24, 2010

DADT heads for judicial and Congressional debate; Maj. Witt heads back to Air Force

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings next Thursday and Friday on the forthcoming Pentagon report about the feasibility of DADT repeal. The hearings are presumably intended to provide cover for senators who have stated their reluctance to vote in favor of repeal without first being able to read and discuss the report, set to be released on Tuesday. The timing of the hearings - as soon as possible after the release of the report, but already deep into a short lame duck session - seems to virtually guarantee that there will be a nailbitingly close finish to the effort to eliminate the DADT policy before this session of Congress ends.

On Dec. 2, the Committee will hear testimony from Secretary of Defense Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, as well as the co-chairs of the Pentagon working group: Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s general counsel, and General Carter Ham, commander of U.S. Army Europe. 

On Dec. 3, witnesses will include Vice-Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright and all of the service chiefs: Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey; Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead; Marine Corps Gen. James Amos; and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz.

Meanwhile in the federal judiciary, the Justice Department filed a notice of appeal in Witt v. Air Force, meaning that the Ninth Circuit is on track to decide both a facial (the Log Cabin Republicans case) and an as-applied (Witt) challenge to the DADT statute. Unlike in the LCR case, however, DoJ did not request a stay of the injunction ordering that Major Witt be reinstated.

Not seeking a stay was a smart move for DoJ, since they probably would have been rebuffed by the court, another humiliation in a case that has been a world of pain for them. Allowing her to return to active duty, though, certainly undercuts the argument that Justice Department lawyers relied on at trial, that her presence harms the force. This is a case they can't win for losing.

UPDATE - Turns out DoJ may still attempt to stop Major Witt from rejoining her unit. She has to satisfy re-entry qualifications before actually returning to duty, and has not yet done so. A Defense Department spokesperson told Politico:

"To date, she has provided the Air Force no evidence that she meets the qualifications necessary to serve as an Air Force flight nurse, nor has she passed a medical physical which is also a prerequisite to her reinstatement," Lt. Col. Karen Platt said in an e-mailed statement. "If Major Witt shows that she meets the prerequisites to her reinstatement at some time in the future, the Air Force, DoD and DoJ will re-evaluate whether or not to seek a stay of the judge's ordered reinstatement, pending appeal of the case." 

November 22, 2010

Georgetown Law hosts conference of experts on DADT

With signs increasing that the Senate actually will take up DADT repeal as part Posterof the defense authorization bill in the week after Thanksgiving, but no guarantee that the effort will succeed, some of the top experts on seeking reform in the administrative, judicial and congressional arenas gathered at Georgetown Law to analyze the possibilities. It's an impressive program available via webcast

In the first panel, Professors Diane Mazur and Jackie Gardina, together with Aaron Tax from SLDN, lay out possible avenues for executive action if repeal fails. Attorneys in the Log Cabin Republicans case (Dan Woods) and Witt case (Aaron Caplan), together with counsel for Victor Fehrenbach (Seth Galanter), discuss litigation strategies in the second panel. The third panel focuses on Congress, with reps from SLDN, HRC, and Servicemembers United, among others. Yours truly does the wrap-up at the end.

Mucho congratulations to the Georgetown students for organizing such an outstanding event.

On a related note - for a lovely tribute to one of the early pioneers on this issue, see Karen Ocamb's interview with former Sgt. Miriam ben-Shalom, who in 1987 won one of the few judgments ever entered in favor of a gay soldier. Last week, ben-Shalom returned to the White House fence where she had also protested in 1993, and once again did her duty.

November 15, 2010

Dems scramble for DADT repeal strategy; Leader of survey project to testify

From The Hill:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may not be able to secure enough votes to pass the [defense authorization] bill because of language repealing the ban on gays in the military. Stripping that provision may be the only way to pass the legislation, which authorizes funding and sets policy for the Pentagon.But abandoning the effort to repeal the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would be a political disaster for President Obama, who made a campaign promise to end the ban...

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the panel’s leading Republican, has been pulling out all the stops to see that provision removed from the Pentagon’s massive policy bill. The Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), backs him.

The defense authorization bill will not be part of the Senate’s schedule this week. But one of the military officers leading the Pentagon’s study into the implications of repeal is scheduled to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Gen. Carter Ham has been nominated to lead Africa Command and will appear for a confirmation hearing, offering a chance for lawmakers to press him on the matter.

The Pentagon study — which both sides will likely use to make their respective cases — is due on Dec.1. Results leaked recently to The Washington Post showed the military could lift the ban with minimal risk to the current war operations. But, at the very least, Republicans will insist on hearings on the findings. The pressure of the running clock could further diminish the chances of passage of the defense bill containing the repeal provision...

Informal deliberations between the House and Senate committees over the defense bill already broke down [last] week over the politics of repeal. But congressional sources said the committees may attempt to revive discussions [this] week. Much depends on how Reid handles the issue...

November 11, 2010

Pelosi hasn't given up on ENDA, but lame duck vote unlikely

From Politico:

As Democrats discuss what, if anything, they can deliver to the base in the lame-duck session, one possibility may be the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, seen by many as the easiest lift among various pieces of stalled gay rights legislation. 

... Speaker Nancy Pelosi talked about wanting to do ENDA on a leadership conference call today. Pelosi didn't set a timeline, but [the] source said she appears to want a vote before the lame-duck session ends.

Then the response, as reported in The Blade:

A gay rights activist with the connections to the speaker’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a blog posting in Politico on Thursday reporting that Pelosi wants a vote on ENDA before lawmakers adjourn for the year is “not true.”

“The speaker brought it up during a leadership call in a list of unfinished bills, and all of the sudden, it got leaked out as she is going to bring this to a vote by the end of the year,” the activist said. “Whoever did leak that took it completely out of context.”

The activist said the speaker didn’t mention “anything else that would have implied she was foretelling a vote by the end of the session.”

Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said “no decisions” have been made on any legislative items for lame duck.

Similarly, Aaron Albright, spokesperson for the House Education & Labor Committee, where ENDA currently sits, said nothing has been scheduled for the committee and “no decisions on the legislative agenda for the lame [duck] have been made.”...

“She’s been very, very, very, very clear that ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] needs to be finished before she’ll schedule a vote on ENDA,” the activist said. “I think this is being misconstrued.”

November 09, 2010

Barney Frank sees quick effort to repeal DADT

From an interview conducted yesterday by Lou Chibbaro of The Blade, in which Barney contradicts reports that DADT repeal is dead:

Rep. Barney Frank: I’ve been working today on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In fact, I think it’s time for people to hold the Republicans’ feet to the fire because we didn’t get any votes from them. Last time around, they had the excuse – some of them – that they didn’t want to vote because [Senate Majority Leader] Harry [Reid] was going to put the DREAM Act in there on immigration. He now says he’s not going to put the DREAM Act in there. He’s going to put that in some other place. So now the question is why do Republicans — Sen. Snow, Sen. Collins and Sen. Brown — what reason would they have for voting against the whole bill?

And I spoke today to Pete Rouse [the acting White House Chief of Staff] and to Sen. Reid and Sen. [Richard] Durbin [D-Ill.] and Sen. [Carl] Levin [D-Mich.], and they all agree. They want to pass the defense bill with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in it. They have two weeks. The question is whether Republicans filibuster it to death. But the Democrats are going to try very hard to do it. I think by the way, that’s why [Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates spoke out. I am sure, nobody’s told me this, but I’m sure the president said to Harry Reid, look, we’ve got to get this done. And Reid said fine, would it be helpful if I got some military support? And eventually Gates spoke out as he did...

I’ve spent — I made a lot of phone calls today. Plus, one fear was I saw, oh well, they’ll take ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ back out of the defense bill. It won’t pass in the House if they do that. I believe the speaker [Pelosi] wouldn’t allow it to come up [unless the bill included repeal]...

The thought was that the Republicans would say if they took ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ out of the [defense] bill this year in the lame duck session they would get it passed. And my answer is that’s not going to get them anywhere because we wouldn’t pass it in the House. We will not accept — there’s been some speculation about that — and the answer is no, the House—we’re going to tell the Senate that’s not going to work. And I don’t think the Senate is planning to do that. Harry is not planning to do that.

… ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal is in the defense authorization bill... [T]here was some suggestion that [Sen. John] McCain [R-Ariz.] would say strip that out and I’ll let you pass the defense bill [without repeal]. And the answer is that won’t work because the House won’t pass it. In other words, the Democratic leadership is thoroughly committed to getting ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repealed... 

Blade: Did Harry Reid give an indication of when he might bring it up?

Frank: Right away — they only have two weeks. He’s committed to getting it done. He and I talked to the three — the Democratic leader, the Democratic whip, the Democratic committee chairman … They all agree they want to get it done. Unfortunately, if we have no Republican votes it can’t be done. So the question is will any Republicans and their supporters get us anything?

I hope he's right about the level of commitment from the White House and Senate leadership.

November 07, 2010

The DADT repeal dance begins again

Over the weekend, politicos and one service Chief of Staff  Imgres began weighing in on the post-election landscape for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The lame duck session of the Senate will probably begin November 15, break for Thanksgiving, and then return for the first half of December. Without strong leadership, there will be no DADT repeal anytime soon.

From Metro Weekly:

On Saturday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters, "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," according to the Associated Press. Gates said Congress should act in the lame-duck session to do so.

The comments came on the heels of comments from the new Marine commandant, Gen. James Amos, who said Saturday that combat is "intimate" and that this intimacy makes him uncertain of the impact of repealing DADT on "unit cohesion" and "combat effectiveness.

According to the Associated Press, Amos said, "There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women – and when you talk of infantry, we're talking our young men – laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers. I don't know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that's what we're looking at. It's unit cohesion, it's combat effectiveness."

Back in May, it was at this point in the legislative process -- right before congressional action was thought to begin happening (and did happen) -- when all of the service chiefs issued letters questioning the timing of the amendment being considered in both chambers' Armed Services committees...

With preliminary reports about the survey of servicemembers suggesting that opposition to openly gay and lesbian service is not as widespread as some of the service chiefs have suggested, and with questions about the ongoing appeal of Log Cabin Republicans v. United States as the background scene, it is not clear that -- despite the comments from Amos -- all of the service chiefs would be willing to send a similar letter opposing lame-duck passage of the repeal amendment...

The people in the military leadership to watch in the next few days, then, are the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen -- who made a strong statement in support of repeal before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February -- as well as Army chief of staff Gen. George Casey Jr., chief of naval operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Air Force chief of staff Gen. Norton Schwartz.

If Amos stands alone in the military leadership as speaking out against DADT repeal in the lame-duck session -- or if Casey, Roughead or Schwartz speak out in favor of lame-duck repeal -- the momentum for action in the lame-duck session could get a major boost. If Amos finds his comments echoed in coming days by his colleagues, repeal advocates will need to confront that reality with political strength in order to offset the military leaders' comments...

But the Wall Street Journal calls the repeal effort "all but lost:"

The drive in Congress to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy appears all but lost for the foreseeable future... Advocates on both sides believed the issue had a chance of coming up in this month's post-election session of Congress. Now that looks unlikely.

Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and John McCain of Arizona, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, are in talks on stripping the proposed repeal and other controversial provisions from a broader defense bill, leaving the repeal with no legislative vehicle to carry it...

Moving the defense bill is complex, especially if it includes controversial measures, because it could take two weeks or longer on the Senate floor, and the coming session is expected to last only three or four weeks...

 "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," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters traveling with him in Australia.

Asked what the White House priorities are for the coming congressional session, press secretary Robert Gibbs named four issues—tax cuts, a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, a child nutrition bill and confirmation of Jack Lew as White House budget director. Asked why he wouldn't put gays in the military on the list, Mr. Gibbs said it looked like Republicans would block action.

November 06, 2010

Impact of the 2010 election on abortion rights law

From an analysis by Nancy Northrup of the Center for Reproductive Rights:

...[Tuesday’s] election was not a referendum on reproductive rights, but a reflection of voters’ deeply felt economic worries.  But reproductive rights will be collateral damage... 

Here are the results through a reproductive rights lens and what they mean for our work going forward. As you know, the political landscape of the country shifted significantly overnight with anti-choice forces increasing their strength in the U.S. House of Representatives, Senate, governorships and statehouses. The House of Representatives likely gained forty-nine anti-choice members with several races still being decided. The Senate retained a slim but diminished pro-choice majority with two races still being counted. There are already members of Congress who would use any means to block access to abortion, and they now have new allies. We anticipate that the anti-choice leadership in the House will aggressively attempt to push through measures designed to stop all health insurance policies from covering abortion services, even for those who work in the private sector and pay for premiums out of their own paychecks... 

While considerable focus is on Washington today, the states are likely to move more expeditiously to endanger women’s health and rights. They were already the primary battleground before this election, although the extremity of our opponents largely flew under the public’s radar screen.  In 2010, the Center tracked more than 600 anti-choice state bills. The sheer relentlessness of our opponents was on full display this year in Oklahoma, where the legislature enacted eight new anti-choice laws, four of which were vetoed by now-retiring Governor Brad Henry (the legislature then overrode three of them). In January, Governor Henry will be replaced by an anti-choice governor.  Governors in Kansas and Florida also vetoed extreme bills this year. Unfortunately they too were not standing for re-election and will be succeeded by anti-choice replacements.

Not all the results are in from the governors races, but here’s what we know. Twelve states will switch from pro-choice to anti-choice governors. In addition to those mentioned above, they are Iowa, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Three states will change from anti-choice to pro-choice or mixed-choice governors: Colorado, Nevada, and Rhode Island. Clearly, the overall landscape has become more challenging...

November 03, 2010

The day after: How bad was it?

Pretty bad, especially in DC where progressives will go back to playing defense in Congress. Bills that seemed like viable prospects a few months ago - ENDA, the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act - are seriously dead, perhaps for years. Will DADT repeal make it through the Senate in the lame duck session? Anybody's guess. On the positive side, there is a fourth openly gay member of the House: David Cicilline from Rhode Island (photo below); and Barney Frank was re-elected, although by a smaller margin than he is used to.

 David-cicilline-0907-lgThere will be a major increase in pressure on the White House to do more positive things by administrative action, since Congress has gone over to the dark side. Unfortunately, however, an administration that was timid and gunshy on lgbt issues to begin with will now face the prospect of Republicans using their new House majority to initiate many, many oversight hearings and investigations. Most of these will probably center on financial issues and health reform, but the GOP base may want some action on social issues as well.

The only silver lining I see to the Tuesday bloodbath is that there are now more strongly pro-gay governors than ever, including Brown in CA, Cuomo in NY, Dayton in MN, Hickenlooper in CO, possibly Quinn in IL (race is still undecided), and Patrick (re-elected) in MA. In addition, NH Governor John Lynch, who signed a marriage bill, was re-elected. So far as I can tell, no gubernatorial candidate who endorsed marriage equality lost his race (unless the very close MN race eventually goes to the Republican; some news sites still list it as undecided). 

Other follow-up from my pre-election post:

A Republican won the Attorney General race in Florida, a Dem was elected in New York, and the California race is still too close to call, although the Dem holds a tiny lead.

In other House races, DADT repeal leader Patrick Murphy lost his job, and Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet fell short in the effort to turn out Mary Bono Mack. Hometown update: McIntyre won.

State legislatures:

Marcus Brandon (photo right) was elected Political newcomer Marcus Brandon defeated Rep. Earl Jones of  Greensboro in the Democratic primary. The dark areas of the district map  were carried by Brandon, and the six light green areas by Jones to the state legislature in North Carolina, another openly gay African-American officeholder, and a rare bright spot from the election. Other openly gay public officials are listed here.

In several states, both chambers of the legislature now have Republican majorities. In New Hampshire, that may lead to an effort to repeal the equal marriage law there, although presumably Gov. Lynch would veto such legislation. (However, a reader points out that the Republicans have a veto-proof majority.) In NC, it may allow Republicans to get a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage through the legislature, which a Dem majority had been able to kill year after year. Same is true in Pennsylvania. And it's pretty safe bet that there won't be much equality legislation getting enacted in Maine for awhile.

In general, adoption of state civil rights laws will almost certainly slow down.  In 7 out of the 10 most populous states in the nation, there is no state-wide anti-discrimination protection for lgbt people: Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and North Carolina. As of today, both chambers of the state legislature have Republican majorities in every one of those states; all but North Carolina also have Republican governors. That's a pretty serious brick wall.

As for judgeships, the most important race produced a huge defeat when a 54% majority of Iowa voters dumped three Iowa Supreme Court justices who joined that court's marriage equality opinion.

Still, I can end on a bright note: in California state court, Victoria Kolakowski became the nation's first openly transgender judge. 

October 01, 2010

What next for DADT repeal?

How to salvage DADT repeal dominates lgbt issues in Washington, as what seems to me the longest midterm campaign season in history crawls toward resolution on election day. The next development will almost certainly be Judge Phillips' decision on the scope of the injunction she issues in the Log Cabin Republicans case.  My bet is that it will go beyond relief solely for LCR members, but that, no matter what she does, and regardless of a letter from members of Congress urging the administration to let the injunction take effect, Justice will appeal the decision.

The White House is still saying that repeal will be done in the lame duck session, not to worry. Widespread reaction: worry. Lead strategy of the moment seems to be for POTUS to issue an executive order stopping DADT discharges if legislation adopting the policy is not repealed.  Will he or won't he?  Does only Nancy Pelosi know for sure?  According to the Blade:

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday reiterated her prediction that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be a memory by the year’s end — despite the failure of the Senate last week to move forward with repeal legislation — as she maintained the president has the ability to stop troop discharges without a change in law.

Asked by a reporter whether she’s spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about the Senate taking another shot at “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Pelosi replied, “That will be gone by executive — that will happen with or without Congress.”

“I don’t think it has to depend on whether it passes the Senate,” she continued. “The process will work its way through and the president will make his pronouncement.”

My best guess: when Sec. Gates receives the formal report from the service chiefs on December 1, the Senate logjam will break, or, if it does not, POTUS will act, either by issuing a stop-loss order or by adding a new procedural hurdle for the discharge process that will effectively shut down DADT.

September 17, 2010

Glass ceiling for women in Capitol Hill jobs

Politico reports that fewer than 180 women fill the 535 chief of staff jobs available on the Hill, and among male Senators, the number is dropping. Only 35 percent of House offices employ a female chief of staff, and less than a quarter of senators do, according to an annual survey by the Women’s Campaign Forum” ...

Over the past four years, the number of male members who employ a female chief of staff has dropped to 20 percent in the Senate, WCF estimates. Female House members have a much better record, which has continually improved over the past four years, but the ratio of female chiefs of staff to female members of Congress is still below 50 percent.

...The average House chief of staff rakes in $134,000, according to the employment studies. A POLITICO review of several House compensation studies last spring found that the number of female chiefs of staff in the House had increased by only about 6 percentage points over the past five years.

The number of female legislative directors, a second-tier position that is largely influential in the formation of policy, increased by only 1 percentage point, to 36.5 percent, in the same five-year period.

But women are eating up the middle- to lower-level jobs on the Hill, at least on the House side. According to last year’s House Compensation Study, women filled 84 percent of executive assistant and 82 percent of scheduler jobs. These positions, which typically pay an average of $48,000 to $59,000, include orchestrating office functions and keeping tabs on a member’s schedule.

September 16, 2010

ENDA down for the count

The Hill reports the obvious: it's all but over for ENDA in this session of Congress, except for a hail mary lame duck strategy. Unfortunately every Dem-affiliated interest group in DC has a long and lengthening list of goals for which not much hope is left except for a HMLD strategy.

Amazingly, everyone agrees on who's at fault with ENDA: the other guy.

Gay-rights activists say they are resigned to the fact that the House will not vote before the midterm elections — and perhaps not this year — on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill adding workplace protections for sexual orientation and gender identity.

With Democrats bracing for big GOP gains in November, the legislation could be dead for the foreseeable future if it isn’t passed this Congress.

“I am not too optimistic,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “It was never a top priority [for Democratic leaders], and we ran out of time.”

Keisling blamed the media for elevating the issue of gays in the military over ENDA. She said she doesn’t question the importance of ending “Don’t ask” but noted “ENDA has always been the community’s No. 1 legislative priority.”

ENDA has been a cause for the gay community for years, but it has taken a backseat to the push to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military...

 “Speaker Pelosi made a commitment to our community that this would come up for a vote during this session of Congress,” said Fred Sainz, chief spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. “A commitment has been made, and we expect that commitment to be fulfilled.”

Advocates are turning their attention to the lame-duck session of Congress, when they have been told there is a chance ENDA could be brought to the floor...

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) — the chief architect of ENDA — said he is working on bringing the bill up during the lame-duck session but did not know if it would happen. He placed part of the blame for ENDA’s delay on gay activists.

 “They haven’t been doing a good enough job of lobbying their members,” Frank said.“People have demonstrations. They don’t lobby their members. I want all of the groups that I agree with to be like the NRA," Frank said...

The House in 2007 passed a version of ENDA that included protections for sexual orientation but not gender identity. That bill gained 35 Republican votes, but the addition of the protection for transgendered people has scared off some centrist Democrats and Republicans wary of wading into a sensitive social issue in an election year...