Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Sunday the Senate likely doesn’t have enough Republican votes during Congress’ lame-duck session to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
“I think in a lame-duck setting, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is not going anywhere,” Mr. Graham, South Carolina Republican, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The statement puts renewed pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who has vowed to call for a full Senate vote on the issue before the congressional session ends at Christmas break.
Mr. Graham’s long-standing position has been that Congress should wait until the release of a Pentagon study on how lifting such a ban would affect the military and that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democrats pushed for the repeal before the November elections to appeal to their base.
U.S. military officials are expected Tuesday on Capitol Hill to discuss the findings of the study, followed by scheduled hearings Thursday and Friday.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support lifting the ban. However, Gen. James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, has said lifting the ban would in part be disruptive to combat units while the U.S. remains at war. Mr. Graham, an Air Force lawyer, makes a similar argument.
“No one is fooled by what’s going on here,” Mr. Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in May when the committee voted 16 to 12 in favor of legislation that included lifting the ban.
However, efforts to reach a full Senate vote on repealing the Clinton-era policy, as part of the defense authorization bill, stalled in September over Republican concerns about being excluded from the amendment process.
The House has already voted in favor of giving the Pentagon authority to lift the ban, as part of its defense authorization, but only if the study shows such a change would not hurt military efforts.
Senate Democrats will need help from at least two Republicans to reach a filibuster-proof 60 votes on the way to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said when the lame-duck session started earlier this month that Democrats should have the Republican votes.
Democrats likely will have a tougher time passing such legislation after the new Congress begins in January because midterm elections cut the Democratic majority in the Senate to just a few seats and also handed control of the House back to Republicans.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, said Sunday the ban on gays in the military should be lifted to continue the country’s long-standing record of troops serving with a “sense of integrity.”
Mr. Graham also said Sunday “there’s no groundswell of opposition [to the policy] by the military.”
He was supported by Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who criticized a hasty effort to lift the ban and accused President Obama of trying to fix a problem that does not exist.
“We don’t have a problem,” Mr. McCain, a former Navy officer, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This was a political promise made by an inexperienced president or candidate for president of the United States.”
He also pointed out that U.S. armed forces remain an all-volunteer effort, so Americans are not forced to serve under conditions they oppose. Mr. McCain said the military’s high level or recruitment and retention proves “this system is working” and that claims that “don’t ask, don’t tell” was hurting the military are wrong.