WASHINGTON — A lukewarm endorsement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and opposition among some lawmakers cast doubt Tuesday on whether Congress this week will lift the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving openly in the military.
A compromise was struck on Monday by the White House and a small group of Democrats who fear that repeal efforts will be doomed if Republicans regain control of one or both houses of Congress after fall elections.
The plan would overturn the "don't ask, don't tell" law but still allow the military to decide when and how to implement any changes to accommodate the new policy.
Gates, like Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said he supports repeal but would prefer that Congress wait to vote until he can talk to the troops and chart a path forward. Results of a study ordered by Gates are due Dec. 1.
Some lawmakers took a similar stand.
"I see no reason for the political process to pre-empt it," Sen. Jim Webb, a conservative Democrat from Virginia, said of the military study.
On Tuesday, Gates said he will support the White House compromise but wishes it didn't have to happen now.
President Barack Obama has vowed to help repeal the 1993 law, which prohibits the military from asking service members whether they are gay, bans homosexual activity and requires that gay troops not discuss their sexual orientation.
With the political clock ticking, several lawmakers were planning this week to push for an immediate suspension of military firings related to sexual orientation.
In a deal brokered Monday by the White House, Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., announced they will introduce repeal legislation that would require military approval before it would take effect.
"They say they favor repeal," Levin said of the administration on Tuesday. "There's no reason why (Congress) should not have that same kind of expression."
Added Murphy, an Iraq war veteran: "We need to get this done, and we need to get it done now. … We are moving forward."
The House is expected to vote as early as Thursday on the measure as an amendment to the 2011 defense authorization bill.