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DADT Repeal Advocates Call For More Aggressive White House Outreach To Capitol Hill

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WASHINGTON -- With negotiations heating up over whether the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will be brought up in the lame duck session of Congress and whether it will include the DREAM Act and a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT), some open service advocates are questioning if the White House is doing enough to persuade Republicans to back the legislation.

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, told The Huffington Post that since Thursday, he has had four separate meetings with persuadable Senate offices -- three with staff, and one with a senator -- and all of them mentioned that they had not yet heard from the White House about supporting a DADT repeal.

"[T]hese are all senators who would be willing to have a dialogue, and they have not heard from the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, which is an arm of the Executive Office of the President," relayed Cooper. "So again, if President Obama is serious about this as a legislative priority, there are Republican offices that need a phone call."

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United (SU), said part of the reason the White House may not be doing aggressive outreach yet is that since it's not definite that NDAA will come up in the lame duck session, officials may be waiting while plans are worked out.

He gave the White House credit for the statement on Monday from Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, which stated, "The White House opposes any effort to strip 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' from the National Defense Authorization Act," but said that while the administration considered it a "huge deal," SU believes it needs to do much more.

"There's this ongoing battle with them now to get them to do more and more and more and more, and they sort of see every step they do as a big accomplishment for them," added Nicholson.

A White House official disagreed with these assessments, saying that they have reached out to Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the issue, making calls as recently as Monday night. "The Administration has not wavered from its stance that the DADT repeal should be passed during this Congress," the official stated.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said that while there could always be more outreach from the White House to Capitol Hill on DADT repeal, he has seen signs that senior administration staff are reaching out to key Republican offices, pointing to the fact that Vice President Biden personally called Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) during the last round of the NDAA in September. He added that he expects there will be significantly more outreach as the vote gets closer.

In September, the defense authorization bill failed by a vote of 56 to 43, with many Republicans objecting to the fact that both the DREAM Act and repeal were included in the legislation. But advocates of open service are more hopeful for passage in the lame duck session for three reasons:

• The midterm elections are over
• Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he supports repeal in the lame duck session
• The impending release (Dec. 1) of the Pentagon's working group findings

While working together, both the Log Cabin Republicans and President Obama have placed a significant amount of the burden and responsibility on each other. In his recent sit-down with progressive bloggers, Obama addressed a DADT repeal, saying that advocates needed to have "a really good conversation" with the Log Cabin Republicans, which is the group behind the case seeking to get the law declared unconstitutional. "[Make] sure that all those Log Cabin Republicans who helped to finance this lawsuit and who feel about this issue so passionately are working the handful of Republicans that we need to get this thing done," said Obama.

Indeed, as recently as Oct. 26, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted that the administration had not yet pressured senators who voted against repeal in December to switch their votes. "To my knowledge it has not taken place yet," he said.

This week, there have been a significant number of reports that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to strip NDAA of DADT repeal. Open service advocates stress that the best opportunity for repeal to get through the Senate is in the lame duck session as part of NDAA, because lawmakers who may be skittish about a direct vote for repeal would be able to support it instead as part of the larger defense authorization package.

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