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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 12/31/2010

DADT repeal: 18 days in December

By Jonathan Capehart

Rare is the occasion in which a president and a nation get to revel in affirming their fundamental principles. And that's exactly what happened on Dec. 22 when President Obama signed the bill that will pave the way to ending the 17-year-old ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. Don't ask, don't tell was a wrong-headed and discriminatory law that destroyed careers and compromised national security. Good riddance.

There have been many pieces chronicling how we arrived at that auspicious day. Christopher Geidner at MetroWeekly wrote about the "Long, Hard Slog'' to DADT repeal through the reflections of those at the center of the fight. Marc Ambinder's "insider account" has that Taylor Branch quality that makes you feel like you're sitting in the front row of history. But his writing doesn't get into the drama of the 18 days between the release of the Pentagon Working Group's comprehensive review of DADT and its final repeal. Every day, sometimes twice a day as the archives will attest, I wrote about the latest wrangling and did quite a bit of prodding and pleading along the way. And in the hurry to tell the story there were parts of the story that weren't told.

Greg Sargent, who also had a running commentary during the 18 days, gets at some of it in his paean to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his role in getting DADT repeal passed. But it leaves out the role of luck (one part political, one part sad), the never-say-die attitudes of activists and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the "oh hell no" push back from Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) when Reid's staff was pushing her under the bus, and the unheralded leadership of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).


The Conspiracy Theory
None of what I will tell you really matters now. The Senate did its duty and did away with DADT before the courts forced the military to do so. While advocates were cautiously optimistic about repeal's chances, the caution was warranted. An e-mail I received from a source on background in the early hours of Dec. 1 -- the day after Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff released their report on DADT repeal -- laid out a troubling and plausible scenario.

We're hearing from two independent, credible sources that a horse trade has been made and agreed to among all the players including the White House. The deal is that Kyl will drop his hold on START in exchange for the defeat of DADT and the Dream Act. So there will be a show vote next week on NDAA that will fail, and then Kyl will drop his hold and START will come up for debate. Defense Authorization may then be pared down and moved forward in some way. We're also hearing that [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell told the Republican caucus that he expects 100% party-line discipline on the cloture vote on NDAA unless and until DADT repeal and the Dream Act are dropped.

This was entirely plausible because while the White House did want DADT repealed, we all knew ratification of New START was the president's number one priority.

Even with the negative second day of testimony from the service chiefs, the Dec. 2 and 3 hearings on the Pentagon report buoyed hopes that DADT would be repealed as part of the defense authorization bill (NDAA), which has passed every year for the last 48 years. But the calendar was getting in the way. Reid made it clear he wanted out of Washington on Dec. 17. Obama was due to leave for Hawaii on the 18th. And a Nov. 29 letter signed by the entire Republican caucus in the Senate informed Reid that any legislation that came up before the chamber dealt with the Bush tax cuts and the spending bill during the lame-duck would be torpedoed. On Dec. 7, a deal was reached between Obama and congressional Republicans on tax cuts and unemployment benefits. By Dec. 8, the behind-the-scenes haggling between Reid, Collins and Lieberman over amendments and debate time on NDAA burst into the open.

The Phone Call with Susan Collins
Activists I follow on Twitter were claiming on Dec. 8 that Obama wasn't putting pressure on Reid or Collins to get DADT done. So I reached out to the White House to inquire. Just before I went on MSNBC that day, around 12:15 p.m., I received a call from a member of Reid's staff. "Collins is being unreasonable," the staffer told me, adding that Reid was offering her 15 amendments (10 for the GOP and five for Democrats). The demand for unlimited debate was a nonstarter because of a fear that conservative senators would use that time to kill it. The White House emailed me a statement on the president's actions at 12:59 p.m.

The President has been reaching out to Senators from both sides of the aisle to reiterate his desire to see Congress pass the National Defense Authorization Act, including a repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', during the lame duck.

My game of phone tag with Collins ended around 1:35 p.m. or so that day. Collins was "enormously frustrated" that "Reid's staff keeps blaming me for keeping [NDAA] from coming to the floor." With exasperation, she would later say, " I am the only Republican to go into Harry Reid's office, which makes me a pariah on my side, and his staff says I'm negotiating in bad faith?"


I asked Collins what she thought of Reid's amendment offer. She informed me that she first heard of Reid's offer through an e-mail from Lieberman at 1:35 p.m. She said she was fine with the amendments deal but wanted Reid to double the amount of time for debate to one hour of debate for each side per amendment. Collins was none too appreciative of being thrown under the bus and was thankful for his statement defending her. It was about five minutes to two when I asked Collins what the majority leader's response was to her counteroffer. "I was writing him the e-mail when you called," Collins said with a laugh, "and I have a meeting at two."

"Write him back," I said in mock exasperation. "Get off the phone with me!"

The Cloture Vote
Dec. 9 was a day of dread. Word had leaked out the night before that Reid was going to go call a cloture vote on NDAA. DADT repeal was doomed no matter what happened. Call the vote before work was done on the tax cut deal and watch Republicans set to vote for the repeal sit on their hands. Don't call the vote and watch the calendar fill up with other pressing items, such as the new START treaty.

After aborting an attempt to call the vote in the morning, Reid did so in the afternoon and heaped praise on Collins for her efforts to broker a compromise and slammed the Republicans for doing everything to scuttle a deal. But she wasn't there to hear it. Collins burst onto the floor after seeing that Reid was calling the vote and more publicly made her case for a "reasonable" amount of time to debate the amendments on DADT.

The cloture vote would fail 57-40. Collins bucked her party and voted "Yes."

As DADT repeal was going down like the Hindenburg, Collins and Lieberman were already working on a stand-alone bill right there on the Senate floor. By the afternoon, S.4022 was introduced. Of all the routes to get rid of DADT, the legislative process was always best. But there were still concerns that the Senate with its arcane rules would find a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

Enter Steny Hoyer


At the Dec. 9 holiday party at the office of Steve Elmendorf, the high-powered Democratic lobbyist who was a senior adviser to then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) for 12 years, Hoyer was buttonholed by Allison Herwitt, the legislative director at the Human Rights Campaign. According to an ear witness, she "chewed his ear off as to why the House had to go first to cut down on the procedural mumbo-jumbo in the Senate."


While Collins and Lieberman spent the weekend (Dec. 11 and 12) cobbling together senate support for their stand-alone measure, sources tell me Hoyer was working the phones, including calling a few Republican senators. Pelosi had already gone on record on Dec. 10 saying that the House would take up the issue again if the Senate sent over a bill. By Monday, Dec. 13, Hoyer decided that the House would go first by voting on a bill sponsored by himself and the man (pictured) who worked the halls of Congress for more than a year to secure passage of a repeal measure back in May, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.).

Despite all this action, the troubling and plausible scenario from the wee hours of Dec. 1 appeared to be playing out. An e-mail I received from a source on background on Dec. 13 served to reinforce my disquiet.

McConnell, [Arizona Sen. John] McCain and [South Carolina Sen. Lindsey] Graham apparently went to the White House and told the officials there that they would be willing to let START go forward if the White House did nothing more on DADT. The White House took the deal, Reid agreed and what you saw play out on the Senate floor Thursday was Reid trying to bring DADT to conclusion. It didn't work.

Reid expected Senator Collins to be ok with being labeled the bad guy and for her to roll over. He was amazed that she would rush into the Senate chamber and defend herself so forcefully. He was even more amazed when Lieberman told him that he was going to introduce a stand-alone bill with Collins as his co-sponsor. He has been shocked by how much negative press and editorials he has gotten from his pretty transparent actions and may now want to push Republicans on the spot and advance a bill to the floor just to see what happens.

Another source -- not within the Obama administration -- also knew about the McConnell, McCain and Graham meeting. But there was push-back on the idea that the White House took the deal. "They just listened," the source said.

Taking advantage of a bad situation
The Hoyer-Murphy bill to repeal DADT was introduced on Dec. 14. As I explained that day, the beauty of Hoyer's move was that, once the bill passed -- which it did 250 to 175 on Dec. 15 -- it went to the Senate as a privileged motion. Harry Reid was compelled to move on it, and the measure would require only one cloture vote.

Two things happened on Dec. 16 that gave Reid the opening he needed to act. In the early evening, the Senate leader yanked the omnibus spending bill off the floor after Republicans blocked efforts to pass it. He then filed cloture motions for the Dream Act and DADT repeal. What gets little attention in the repeal timeline is that earlier that day Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that he had early stage prostate cancer and would have surgery on Monday, Dec. 20. That would mean one less "yes" vote for DADT repeal if it weren't brought up soon for a vote. Wyden is recovering nicely, we hear.

So, this is where I agree with Sargent's props for Reid. The majority leader saw an opening and successfully took advantage of a bad situation. But it would not have been successful if senators put party or ideology above equity and fairness.

'This is done!'
On Saturday, Dec. 18 at 11:44 a.m., DADT repeal mustered 63 votes to clear the filibuster hurdle. Within less than an hour, the Senate announced that the final vote would be held that afternoon. At 3:30 p.m., DADT was repealed by a final vote of 65 to 31, including Wyden, Collins and seven of her fellow Republicans.

At a packed bill-signing ceremony at the Interior Department, President Obama said, "For we are not a nation that says, 'don't ask, don't tell.' We are a nation that says, 'Out of many, we are one.' We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals that we uphold today. And now, it is my honor to sign this bill into law."

Surrounded by the political leadership that helped make the moment possible, Obama signed the repeal of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military. With the stroke of a pen, a slap of the desk and to thunderous applause, the president declared, "This is done!"

By Jonathan Capehart  | December 31, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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Next: A happy, rational new year


The DADT repeal is a wonderful thing (and may the DOMA be next to go).

But your timeline makes it clear that it did not pass through the President's efforts; it passed despite his lack of same. I hope that in the New Year we will no longer have to listen to pundits giving credit where it is most explicitly not due.

Posted by: Itzajob | December 31, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

12. Joint benefits/same sex marriage/civil unions are irrelevant based on individual accounts regarding healthcare. Like attorney client privilege – Doctors/Patients/Records will be private and secure by acts of law. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Don’t Care. Statesman vs. Politician

Posted by: OutOfState | December 31, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 12/31/2010
DADT repeal: 18 days in December
By Jonathan Capehart
Rare is the occasion in which a president and a nation get to revel in affirming their fundamental principles... Good riddance.
= = = = = = = =
All due respect to the blog's owner, the guest will no longer post on tne Post-Partisan Partisan's Partisan forum. Free Speech has obviously been banned. Rare is the occasion in which a president, post-partisan partisan pundits, and their share of the nation get to revel in affirming their fundamental principles, while the majority get the stuffin' knocked out their's. See you on the National Review if you ever come to repentance.

Posted by: FreeNomore | December 31, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Well, if anybody doubted that you deserved that Pulitzer, this should settle that question.

(It did not need to be for me.)

Posted by: chris1231 | December 31, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Why do pundits continue to blame, attack and dismiss Obama as a bystander. DADT and the START treaty would not have passed if Obama did not agree to a deal about the tax cuts. To completely dismiss his efforts and try to claim he did not want DADT passed in the first place is completely missing the "True" facts. This article is full of opinion disguised as facts.

Posted by: vamonticello | December 31, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Obviously Obama didn't take that the McConnell/Graham/McCain deal.

Lieberman said on CNN that after the Omnibus bill fell that Obama had spoken to Reid and they both agreed to bring up both DADT repeal and the DREAM act up for a vote on Saturday.

The White House knew that the Republicans were trying to force Obama into choosing between the repeal of DADT and NEW START. In the end Obama said I want both and the rest is history.

Posted by: maritza1 | December 31, 2010 6:21 PM | Report abuse

A politically correct vote does not change the fact that homosexuality is as biologically normal as pedophilia or necrophilia.

From Ernst Rohm to Pfc Manning....homosexuals in the military has a checkered track record

Posted by: georgedixon1 | December 31, 2010 6:58 PM | Report abuse

Now if they could just take care of the transgender issue.

Posted by: drowningpuppies | January 1, 2011 11:52 AM | Report abuse

hmmm I always thought those with a vested interest should make a public disclaimer to warn the reading public their views are biased. America is afflicted with biased reporting.

The horse-trade of DADT and the dream act was an abomination to citzens. That trade created 1 trillion dollars in additional debt. The gay and latino communities deliberately sacrificed the financial sovency of this nation for a personal agenda. Quite unamerican.

Posted by: kimdkendall | January 1, 2011 1:33 PM | Report abuse

As individual citizens, homosexuals deserve their personal liberties and rights, like everyone else, including the right to be treated with courtesy and respect. They deserve these conditions because they share with straights the purely inherent, immutable, and natural condition of being human.

However, while all human beings are equal, all human behaviors are not. Clearly, some behaviors are better than others, and some are appropriate in all settings, while others are not. Homosexuality clearly falls in the latter two categories for numerous reasons, a few of which are as follows:

1. It bears no resemblance to race or gender, to which homosexuality is erroneously compared on a consistent basis.

2. Unlike race or gender, homosexuality can be learned or adopted.

3. In comparison to heterosexuals, homosexuals are far more prone to bodily damage and disease, much of which is serious and life threatening.

4. Even in "committed" relationships, homosexuals, primarily men, are notoriously non-monogamous.

5. In areas that permit SSM, homosexuals are far more likely to divorce than heterosexuals.

6. Homosexuals experience more emotional and mental illness, than heterorsexuals.

7. Domestic violence is much more prevalent in male same-sex relationships than in heterosexual ones.

The majority, who understands that marriage must remain between one man and one woman must work together. To do so we must educate the public. Please copy this post and read the essay on which it is based, "The Case for Limiting Government Recognition to Traditional Relationships." it consists of a blog that I wrote and placed on Yahoo at Please email this post and the link to the blog to as many people as you can and ask that they do the same. In this way, we can keep marriage between one man and one woman, as it should be.

Posted by: semyon_suslov | January 1, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Great story. FYI; just launched as the "Facebook" for gay and lesbian service members.

Posted by: 1millionbumperstickers | January 1, 2011 4:50 PM | Report abuse for gay and lesbian service members.

Posted by: 1millionbumperstickers | January 1, 2011 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Too many special interest groups speak with pride as they deliberately sacrifice this nation for their agendas. It is time middle america recognize they should not support candidates or incumbants that support special interests with more furver and commitment than ordinary america.

Posted by: kimdkendall | January 1, 2011 8:15 PM | Report abuse

I am going to comment on the dream act since I view the tax legislation that was passed as a horse-trade by the democratic leadership to service two powerful special interest groups of the democratic party, gays and latinos for passage of DADT and the dream act. Below is my reason for not supporting the dream act. Financially latinos are complete negatives for this nation.

When the debate on immigration reform raged a couple of years ago the proponents of amnesty want to provide for a preference for family members not in the US to immigrate here. The argument was we, as americans should not be the reason extended families are separated. The question to be asked is, will that same argument not be used if children of illegals are allowed a path to citizenship and amnesty? Will there not be an outcry that it is inhumane to separate parents and children? Yes. Such is the devious nature of this movement: Omissions of consequence and intent for an agenda.

Posted by: kimdkendall | January 2, 2011 2:26 PM | Report abuse

By the way does anyone believe the political intellegencia, capehart and the rest of pundantdom not know the chosen path to total amnesty for illegals. NO does that make them propogandists? In my view yes.

Posted by: kimdkendall | January 2, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: lyn3 | January 3, 2011 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Thank you,Capehart, for your tireless coverage of this issue. Now it is time to repeal DOMA and make progress with trans-gender rights!

Posted by: 10bestfan | January 3, 2011 12:46 PM | Report abuse

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