GOP drive to add gay ban to leave bill loses steam

January 31, 1993|By Clifford Krauss | Clifford Krauss,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Efforts by Republicans in the Senate t retain a ban on homosexuals in the military have apparently lost momentum since President Clinton announced a compromise Friday that delays a final resolution of the issue for six months.

Saying they have a winning political issue, Senate Republicans said they still hoped to add an amendment codifying the current ban to legislation providing family and medical leave.

But they acknowledged that they lost crucial votes for such an effort when Mr. Clinton and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., reached an agreement in which the armed forces will stop asking recruits about sexual orientation while continuing discharge proceedings for homosexuals, except for final dismissal, until the Pentagon drafts a new policy in six months.

Mr. Nunn, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was preparing to offer a compromise amendment of his own that would put the agreement into law, senior Democratic aides said. Should the Republican effort stumble completely, Mr. Nunn may not offer the amendment at all.

"The Democrats may have the votes because of this smoke-screen compromise," said Walt Riker, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas. "The Democrats have figured out a way to string everyone along."

Senate Republicans will meet Tuesday to discuss an amendment, which would be offered in the full Senate and voted on separately from the family leave bill. The family leave bill is expected to be the first measure to come up for a vote next week.

But Republicans seem divided over the wisdom of emphasizing a social issue such as homosexuality after an election in which voters demonstrated far more concern about the economy.

Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, the Republican Senate whip, appeared to distance himself from the effort to codify the ban. "That will not necessarily be a Republican strategy, and it's not one that will be totally agreed upon by Republicans," he said yesterday. "I have heard of no strategy for all Republicans."

Nonetheless, on Friday, some Republicans who favor an amendment proclaimed that Mr. Clinton had put his legislative program in jeopardy by fulfilling a campaign pledge to a sector of the U.S. public that was out of step with mainstream thinking.

White House officials said they doubted Senate Republicans could attach the ban to family leave legislation, and they were prepared to seize whatever political advantage they could from criticizing the Republicans as trying to block legislation that is overwhelmingly popular with families with two working parents.

George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director, said the administration planned to do little lobbying on the military issue over the next six months other than to stand by Mr. Clinton's general commitment to the elimination of the ban on homosexuals.

"As the process goes on and people lose some of their worst fears, it's possible to reach some agreement," he said. "And if not, we still stand by our principles."

Senate Democrats appeared as divided as the Republicans on the issue. Conservatives, especially those who serve on the armed services panel, are reluctant to saddle the military with new rules that they fear could hurt morale and combat effectiveness. But they are equally apprehensive about confronting Mr. Clinton, especially so early in his term.

A senior aide to a Democratic member of the panel said conservative Democrats felt they have been let off the hook by the Clinton-Nunn compromise, at least for six months.

Over that time, the committee will hold hearings on the issue.

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