The story of the lame duck session so far has been simple. Bills met with effective grassroots opposition die, and bills that don't face that opposition don't die. The DREAM Act and the omnibus were both opposed by, broadly speaking, Tea Party activists who threatened primary challenges to Republicans or tough challenges to Democrats. They both went down. But Don't Ask Don't Tell, a priority of liberals -- a priority, especially, of gay groups -- sailed through the Senate, picking up eight Republican votes even though it had failed to get more than one of those votes in previous go-rounds. A few Republicans, like North Carolina's Richard Burr, voted to repeal despite giving no previous indication that they'd do so. "A majority of Americans have grown up at a time [when] they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do," said Burr after the vote. He was just re-elected in 2010, but John Ensign, who also switched from no to aye, is up in 2012.
I asked Elaine Donnelly, president of the
Center for Military Readiness
, exactly what had happened. Her group lobbied against repeal; Focus on the Family lobbied against repeal. Did Republicans just ignore them?
"Everyone knew what the intent of the Republicans was," said Donnelly. "They put it in writing. They not only signed a written letter saying they did not want a DADT vote until they dealt with taxes, but they had made statements about how they needed time to scrutinize this issue and read the military's report. This was beaten back twice, so I think we did have an expectation that it would not come up again. I thought they would keep their word. They broke it."
I also asked Donnelly if there would be political repercussions for Republicans or Democrats who repealed DADT, or if her group would push to restore restrictions on gays serving in the military in 2011 or 2012. "It's too early to comment on that," she said.
Bottom line: The threat to Republicans who broke from social conservatives and opposed DADT was not much of a threat.