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Webb disappoints gay rights groups with 'Don't Ask' vote

Gay rights groups and liberal activists slammed Virginia Sen. James Webb Friday, one day after he was the only Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee to vote against a repeal of the military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy.

The Armed Services panel voted 16-12 to add language repealing the policy to the defense authorization bill, with Webb joining 11 Republicans in opposition and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joining 15 Democrats in favor. Earlier Thursday, the full House also voted to end the policy.

In explaining his vote, Webb noted that the Pentagon had begun a comprehensive review of the policy in February, and said he believed that review should be completed before Congress stepped in to make a statutory change.

"I see no reason to pre-empt the process that our senior Defense Department leaders put into motion, and I am concerned that many members of the military would view such a move as disrespectful to the importance of their roles in this process," Webb said in a statement issued by his office.

Many liberal groups backed Webb in his 2006 campaign victory over ex-Gov. George Allen (R), and had hoped Webb would vote with his fellow Democrats on this issue.

Human Rights Campaign, a leading gay rights group, had organized a letter to Webb from military women in Virginia, imploring him "to stand on the right side of history" and support repeal. But the letter didn't budge Webb.

"Certainly this is a big disappointment for us, especially when we saw such great leadership from others on the committee," said HRC spokesman Michael Cole, referring to the fact that Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), a Democrat with a generally more conservative voting record than Webb, decided to back repeal. "It's disheartening to see someone like Jim Webb vote the wrong way on this."

HRC endorsed Webb in his 2006, contributed money to his campaign and did volunteer work for him on the ground. So would Thursday's vote prevent the group from doing the same in 2012?

"That's an open question," Cole said. "Certainly we evaluate the totality of someone's record."

Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is openly gay and a leading voice against the "Don"t Ask" policy, also said he was "disappointed" by Webb's vote, adding that he believed Webb's argument "that the troops will feel disregarded doesn't hold up."

But Frank also wouldn't say whether this issue would affect whether he supports Webb's reelection. "It depends who his opposition is. No single vote is going to determine it," Frank said.

On the Web, pro-repeal activists were ecstatic about Thursday's votes overall but still sprinkled in some shots at Virginia's senior senator. A sarcastic Daily Kos post asked "who needs Republicans" to block the policy when you've got Webb?

But one writer on Blue Virginia, a progressive blog, said Webb's stance was to be expected. "For a man raised by a career military father who also made the military an integral part of his own life, the decision Jim Webb reached is no surprise to me," she wrote.

In an interview with ABC News after the vote, Webb sounded amenable to an eventual change in the policy. "I just don't feel like this is the proper way to move forward, although I am pretty empathetic to the situation people are facing," he said.

By Ben Pershing  |  May 28, 2010; 3:10 PM ET
Categories:  Ben Pershing , James Webb  
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