By Evan McMorris-Santoro
As the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell headed toward defeat in the Senate last week -- delivering what was seen at the time as quite possibly a fatal blow to repeal this year -- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and said he wanted to help put repeal back on the agenda.
In a phone interview with TPM Wednesday evening, shortly after the House approved a standalone DADT repeal bill that just might push repeal through before the lame duck ends, Hoyer described how he saw to it that the House acted to spur on the Senate.
As the Senate vote closed last Thursday, Hoyer says he called Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
"I indicated to both of them that it was my inclination to ask Congressman [Patrick] Murphy [D-PA] to introduce [a standalone bill]," Hoyer said. He told Murphy -- an Iraq War veteran and the author of the legislative language the first time the House voted to repeal DADT back in May -- that it was time to act fast.
"The first opportunity we had to do [put the legislation on the floor of the House] was 12 o'clock this week on Tuesday," Hoyer said. "And we did that."
The House voted 250-175 today in favor of repealing DADT, a tally that included a 10 vote increase (from five to 15) in the number of Republicans voting for repeal. Hoyer chalked up the increase in GOP support to the Pentagon report released last month showing an overwhelming percentage of active duty servicemembers would be unaffected by a repeal of the policy.
"I think that certainly gave a higher level of confidence to members on both sides of the aisle," Hoyer said.
He now hopes to carry that momentum through to the Senate, where there's evidence that a growing number of Republicans are willing to vote for a standalone repeal bill. Hoyer said he's been talking to Republican senators and urging them to vote for the bill. He said he spoke with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) before announced she would vote for the standalone bill, and he said that Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) "indicated" he would support the bill as well.
Hoyer said that Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) -- the only Republican to vote for cloture on the defense bill in the Senate and a co-sponsor of the standalone repeal bill there -- have told him they "they have a high level of confidence that this can get done."
But asked how confident he was that Tuesday's vote would be the last he cast on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Hoyer was cautious.
"How confident am I? I don't want to be too snide, but you are [aware] that we're sending this to the United States Senate," he said. "Confidence levels are not high from the House perspective about what the United States Senate will do with things."