WASHINGTON — In a new showdown on a volatile issue, the House will take up a bill this week that would overturn the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays, Democratic leader Steny Hoyer revealed Tuesday.
The move would put pressure on the Senate to delay its holiday adjournment plans and take up a repeal bill sponsored last week by Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and independent St. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. That bill's fate has been in doubt because of other pressing issues facing the Senate with only days to go before it planned to conclude its lame-duck session.
Repeal advocates see this week as their last best shot at overturning "don't ask, don't tell," which bars gay troops from acknowledging their sexual orientation. Next year, Republicans take back control of the House and additional Senate seats, severely undercutting the chances that any Democratic priority will advance come January.
"This discriminatory and harmful policy has weakened America's security by depriving us of the work of tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops who have served their country honorably," Hoyer said. "And it has severely compromised our Armed Forces' core value of integrity."
Hoyer said he would introduce the bill with Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy as his co-sponsor. A vote was expected as early as Wednesday.
In May, the House voted 234-194 in favor of repeal legislation as part of a broader defense policy bill. But that bill has stalled in the Senate where Republicans have blocked it on procedural grounds and questioned unrelated provisions, including one that would allow abortions at overseas military facilities.
Collins and Lieberman introduced a stand-alone bill to overturn the military ban on openly gay troops has been introduced by in the hopes that the slimmed-down version would attract fewer objections.
But that bill had been considered a long shot because any Senate action would require House approval with just days before Congress was to adjourn.
The last-minute House vote would eliminate that concern and put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to keep the Senate in session past this weekend to wrap up any unfinished business. Reid has said he would try to convene a vote on the bill before adjournment.
Sixty senators are believed to support the bill, giving it a filibuster-proof majority, if enough debate time is allowed.
It has about 40 co-sponsors, with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia being the only known Democratic opponent. At least four Republicans — Collins, Sens. John Ensign of Nevada, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have said they back repeal.
"We'll soon find out if promises made will be promises kept," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocate of repealing the law.
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