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Are Democrats Really Furious Obama Is Leaving Them Hanging on DADT? Or Is This a Convenient Excuse to Delay?

A Senate Armed Services Committee hearing scheduled for this morning, to continue testimony on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, was canceled. It will be “rescheduled later.” A sign of things to come for a repeal effort? The Democrats sure think so.

Senate and House Democrats are laying blame on the White House for not offering a concrete strategy on how to best repeal DADT — the same way President Obama went about his health care reform push. Instead of telling Congress what he wanted done, he left it in the hands of lawmakers, and you see how that ended up.

Last year’s Obama plan to involve Sen. Joe Lieberman is nowhere to be found. And these alleged “road maps” to equality — hinted at by the president, and allegedly in the possession of HRC president Joe Solmonese, seen this week enjoying beverages at a West Hollywood bar — are harder to find than the Constitution in National Treasure 3.

And now Obama’s allies are starting to turn. Or at least play the requisite blame game. Politico reports:

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) cast the issue in the context of Obama’s recent dual-track political approach of soothing liberals in his national messaging while stressing centrism inside the Beltway.

“There’s frustration, and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is one small part of it,” says Weiner. “The frustration has been that while the president has said the right things when he’s on the road, he’s emphasized bipartisanship and not [moved] towards issues of importance to the Democratic base when he comes back to Washington.”

[…] House and Senate aides praised Obama, Mullen and Gates but say the administration’s point man in the Senate, Jim Messina, hasn’t followed up with a detailed plan for how to proceed, leading to some confusion.

“We need a clear path forward,” a senior House Democratic aide said.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he’s ready to move ahead but needs to hear from Gates about what the Pentagon thinks is the best way to go — a full repeal or less-far-reaching legislation imposing a moratorium on dismissing anyone accused of violating the policy.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said last week she would prefer to move legislation first but may opt to wait for the Pentagon to finish its review.

“I’ll have to examine it. We’ll take a look. We’ll sit down together and see. What is the advantage of going first with legislation?” said Pelosi, a stalwart supporter of gay rights. “Or would the legislation more aptly reflect what is in the review? Or is it a two-step process?”

Cue the rebuttal:

White House officials dismiss such concerns and say the president’s commitment to rolling back the policy is iron-clad — even though he plans to leave the details to Hill Democrats.

“I don’t know how you get a more clear signal than calling for repeal in your first State of the Union address in front of an audience of 50 million people and having the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense express their support for ending the ban,” said Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor. “The timing of when Congress acts is up to Congress.”

But didn’t Obama send a “clear signal” that he wanted health care reform by saying similar things during his first year in office, only to leave it in the hands of lawmakers who have so far bungled the effort? Yes. But leaving the debate there would miss one other little history lesson: A White House making specific demands of lawmakers doesn’t always work so well. Remember Bill Clinton’s stab at health care reform? Yeah.

Which leaves a few trailblazing Democrats to go it alone. Like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose plans to deny funding for DADT investigations is clashing with the gay military activist groups that, one would assume, would be working with Gillibrand’s office.

Political critics of Gillibrand say a more senior senator should take the lead on DADT, or at least someone who sits on the Armed Services Committee. Activist critics, however, say her stop-gap approach could hinder a full-blown repeal.

Much of the frustration could be explained plans announced by Servicemembers United — spearheaded by Alex Nicholson, and is among those criticizing Gillibrand — that’s putting forth a “Set End Date/Delayed Implementation,” which carries a 18-month timeline for DADT’s repeal. And which, on its face, sounds like a civilian approach to what the Pentagon is already promising to do, but with more stringent (and legally required) clauses.

“A lot of different elements within the LGBT and progressive communities had been holding out for full and immediate repeal which has been embodied in the Military Readiness Enhancement Act,” said Nicholson. “We have been arguing throughout 2009 that that is not attainable right now — that you’re not going to get repeal until you get Pentagon support and you’re not going to get Pentagon support unless you briefly delay implementation.”

Servicemembers United is calling for new legislation to be introduced and passed this year, and its outline includes a regular reporting structure in which the DOD reports back to Congress every three months on how its implementation plan is progressing until full repeal is achieved 18 months from when the working group actually began its review.

But let’s not leave out one important event that is impossible to separate from this debate: mid-term elections. For Gillibrand, her DADT efforts are a sign that she’s committed to LGBT equality, which is seen as an asset in New York (well, downstate). It also explains how Rep. Anthony Weiner can get away with saying Obama isn’t doing enough. Many lawmakers either don’t have that same luxury, or don’t believe they do. And until November passes, the most movement we may see is our mouths going up and down, punctuated with question marks.

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