A House Armed Service subcommittee will hold a hearing on the antigay military policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' ( DADT ) on July 23. It is the first congressional hearing since the policy was enacted in 1993.
Tension was thick during a pre-hearing telephone briefing a day earlier with the bill's lead sponsor Rep. Ellen Tauscher ( D-California ) as she was pressed on the politics of passage. One was left with the suspicion that the hearing was mainly for show, a sop by Democrats to the LGBT community which has overwhelmingly supported the party.
'I think we are pretty sanguine about the political realities we currently we face,' said Tauscher. 'We believe that this is something the President [ Bush ] clearly will not sign,' she asserted, while a President Obama would. She also saw the need for companion legislation in the Senate, which has not yet been introduced.
She called the hearing 'the beginning of the normal course of business' of legislation, a chance to educate both the American people and members of Congress to the need to repeal the legislation.
However, there appears to be little need to further educate the public. The latest Washington Post-ABC poll showed that 75 percent of Americans believe that gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. That is up from 44 percent in 1993
When pressed on that and why there is difficulty in moving a bill with such popular support through Congress, Tauscher claimed, 'This is a polarizing issue, not to the public but politically it is a polarizing issue because many members have voting records or statements on the record that are perhaps not in tune with where the American people and their own constituents are.'
Tauscher said she had not polled the Armed Services Committee to see if the bill might pass that first hurdle; 'I had no reason to do that since we are not going to bring the bill forward until we have an environment where we can not only pass the bill but get it signed.'
Committee chairman Ike Skelton ( D-Missouri ) has allowed the hearing but is not seen as supportive of the legislation. Tauscher dodged acknowledging that directly but did say, 'I hope to be able to persuade him' to support the measure.
Tauscher said there was no need to have witnesses from the Pentagon because she knows what they will say. 'They always have the same answer; it's the law and we do what the law says, and salute smartly.'
That conflicts with what subcommittee chairman Susan Davis ( D-California ) , who is holding the hearing, told Newsweek magazine. 'I had hoped to hear from the Department of Defense, I had wanted to include them in the hearing.'
Should the bill come to a vote on the floor of the House, Tauscher said, 'I believe that we can get to 218 [ a majority needed for passage ] . Don't forget, this is not just about Democratic votes, we have some good Republicans that will vote for this.'
In other words, despite Democratic control of the House, that is not enough ot ensure passage.
Tauscher repeatedly emphasized her desire to have a vote that would lead to repeal, not have a vote simply to get people on the record. But numerous other bills are put forward with the same political forces in play, simply to get people on the record and score political points. Democrats have proven as willing as Republicans to play that game.
One of the unstated political realities is that the Armed Services Committee is dominated by members of both parties who are on the conservative end of their respective caucuses. The greatest barrier is likely to be getting repeal of DADT out of committee, and once that is accomplished, passage on the floor will be relatively easier.