WASHINGTON-If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That seems to be the mantra for congressional Democrats this month as they furiously try to end their final days of enjoying total control of Congress with a liberal bang.
After a Senate vote last week fell three votes shy of repealing the long-standing policy regarding homosexuals in the military, Democrats simply reintroduced the controversial measure again this week for one more round of votes.
A long line of Democrats from President Barack Obama to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have spent 2010 pledging to take down the Pentagon's 17-year "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy. Enacted during the administration of the last Democrat in the White House, President Bill Clinton, the policy enables homosexuals to serve in the armed forces as long as they are quiet about their lifestyle.
The House of Representatives voted to repeal DADT in May as part of a larger defense-spending bill. But after the long-delayed Senate vote failed last week, supporters of repeal reintroduced the measure as a stand-alone bill-minus the defense dollars. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, her time as leader of the House coming to a close, quickly brought the new bill up for a floor vote. Not surprisingly, with Democrats holding a soon to be extinct House majority, the measure passed again Wednesday night by a 250 to 175 largely party-line vote.
"Both Secretary [Robert] Gates, the Secretary of Defense, and Chairman [Mike] Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have called for Congress to act on the repeal with urgency so that they can begin to carry out the repeal in a consistent manner," urged Pelosi on the House floor before the vote.
What Pelosi didn't mention during her floor speech is that earlier in December the military's top generals, in testimony before Congress, did not back the repeal effort.
"Assimilating openly homosexual Marines into a tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption," warned Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos in comments that were echoed by the heads of the Army and Air Force. "It will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus on preparing units for combat."
The DADT action once again shifts to the Senate, where Reid has said he wants to hold another repeal vote before Christmas.
Repeal advocates need 60 votes for victory in the Senate-and it appears that the numbers are lining up for them this time with the tentative support of three Republican moderates: Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
The best hope for those who want to keep the DADT policy in place may be time. The clock is ticking on the lame-duck session and the Senate has a rather full docket.
Senators have begun debating a complex arms control treaty with Russia and a must-pass bill to keep the government funded also awaits.
But Democrats may employ their own two-minute drill: They are pushing for weekend sessions and even 24-hour marathons to get all their packed agenda items through before the month ends and Republicans take over half of Congress.
This ambitious final month comes a mere six weeks after voters handed Democrats their biggest election defeat since 1938.
"We have a lame-duck session where the majority seems to be insisting on an encore when there were boos for the concert, bringing up every single issue they can think of," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. "What angered people in the elections this year was not just the healthcare law, but how it was passed last year-jammed down the throats of the American people."
No wonder Americans' job approval of Congress just dropped to a paltry 13 percent, the lowest Gallup Poll rating in more than 30 years.
Congressional antics mean it will be a nervous holiday for conservative groups opposed to overturning DADT-not to mention for many soldiers: Nearly 60 percent of Marine and Army combat forces said in a recent Pentagon survey that there would be negative impacts to their units if the policy were repealed. Almost 24 percent of the total armed service members surveyed said they would leave the military or think about leaving sooner than planned if repeal occurs.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins noted that the key sponsor of this new repeal push, Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., was removed from office in November. Many other House members who voted in favor of repeal again on Wednesday night are also on their way out of Congress thanks to defeats.
"Servicemen and -women should not be placed at risk simply to appease the shrinking base of the left," Perkins said in a statement. "By making this change, and putting it as a priority over the actual funding of the troops, Congress is choosing to use the military, not as a tool for national defense, but as an instrument of social engineering."
Another group that likely will watch this last round of repeal debate closely is the nation's current and retired military chaplains. They are worried (see "Speaking out," WORLD, July 17, 2010) that ending the policy would place chaplains in conflict with their faith and threaten the future of conservative chaplains in uniform.