NPR logo

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal In Lame-Duck Hands

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal In Lame-Duck Hands


'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal In Lame-Duck Hands

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Now an update on efforts to repeal the law that prevents gays from serving openly in the military. Congress passed Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 1993. Earlier this year, the House approved a repeal as part of a larger defense bill. That bill is stalled in the Senate.

As NPR's David Welna reports, the lame-duck session of Congress that begins Monday could spell the fate of efforts to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

DAVID WELNA: Ever since President Obama was running for the White House, he's vowed that Don't Ask, Don't Tell would end on his watch. It hasn't yet, of course. And last week, Mr. Obama looked to the upcoming lame-duck session of Congress to help him make good on his promise.

President BARACK OBAMA: We need to provide certainty, and it's time for us to move this policy forward and this should not be a partisan issue.

WELNA: But rolling back Don't Ask, Don't Tell has been a partisan issue; the amendment to repeal the policy got just one Republican vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee. And in September, when Democrats tried taking up the Defense Authorization Bill, which included the repeal, it got blocked by a GOP filibuster.

John McCain is the defense panel's top Republican. Here's what he said then.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (R-Arizona, Armed Services Committee): I do not oppose or support the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell at this time. I do oppose taking legislative action prior to the completion of a real and thorough review of the law.

WELNA: The Pentagon has, in fact, done a massive survey of service members and their spouses, showing most favor a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The matter has also been studied by a blue ribbon commission; its report is due December 1st.

That gives R. Clarke Cooper some hope. He's the director of the pro-repeal group Log Cabin Republicans. At President Obama's behest, Cooper has been urging GOP senators and their staffs to let the Defense Authorization Bill and its repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell come up for a vote, once the Pentagon study is released.

Mr. R. CLARKE COOPER (Executive Director, Log Cabin Republicans): It'll enable them to come out and say, okay, I've been waiting for this study, I'm on record saying that I want to see this study done. And, you know what, sure enough, it checks the box. It actually reports what we thought it would say - open service is not an issue, so let's vote yes on repeal.

WELNA: But a major obstacle could be John McCain. A spokeswoman for the Arizona senator says he does not want the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal provision to stay in the Defense Authorization Bill.

Carl Levin is the Democrat who chairs the Armed Services Committee. He told a local paper in Michigan yesterday that he wants the defense bill passed and he also wants Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed. But Levin added that he did not know whether both things could be accomplished in the lame-duck session.

Other senators fear the repeal could be taken out of the bill.

Senator MARK UDALL (D-Colorado, Armed Services Committee): I'm very concerned it might be stripped. And I'll tell you why I'm concerned.

WELNA: That's Colorado Democrat Mark Udall, who's also on the Armed Services Committee. Udall says, despite Defense Secretary Robert Gates' call over the weekend for Don't Ask, Don't Tell to be repealed, it's not clear Republicans will let it come to a vote.

Sen. UDALL: So I have joined with a number of other senators to call on the Senate leadership and others in the Senate, to open the floor of the Senate to debate the National Defense Authorization Act and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell that's included in it.

WELNA: The White House also opposes stripping the repeal from the defense measure. That larger bill has passed Congress every one of the last 48 years, and the lame-duck session is its last chance for passage.

With Republicans taking over the House, this could also be the last chance Democrats will have for some time to undo Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.