WASHINGTON - New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said Monday she had won the commitment of the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold its first hearing this fall on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military.
The announcement is unusual because Gillibrand does not sit on the panel and did not push the issue in the last Congress, when she served on the House Armed Services Committee.
But the agreement by Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) capped a campaign Gillibrand has been waging in the last few weeks to scrap or suspend the controversial policy that has led the Pentagon to discharge thousands of gays and lesbians since 1994.
She had proposed an amendment to the defense authorization bill for an 18-month moratorium on the policy, but dropped it last week after she failed to round up the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster. "This policy is wrong for our national security and wrong for the moral foundation upon which our country was founded," she said.
Gillibrand's newfound zeal for the issue appears to some analysts to be politically calculated to appeal to liberal New Yorkers in near year's election.
As a House member, Gillibrand did not sign on to a bill introduced in 2007 to replace "don't ask, don't tell" with a sexual-orientation nondiscrimination policy. Most other New York Democrats did, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney of Manhattan, a possible primary foe.
Gillibrand didn't think that bill would pass under the Bush administration, said her spokeswoman Bethany Lesser, but now it could. And she said the gay-rights Human Rights Campaign notes Gillibrand opposed the military's policy back then. Lesser said she is motivated by a June meeting with 1st Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate discharged from the Army National Guard after he said he is gay.
Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio called her recent actions "good politics, good policy." Patrick Egan, who teaches at New York University, said there's a trend of Democrats who are trying to establish credibility with the party's left by getting in step on gay rights issues. "Gillibrand," he said, "is Exhibit A."
Levin said she "asked us to hold a hearing, and I think a discussion of the subject is timely."
No date or details have been worked out, Lesser said.