A measure to repeal the 16-year-old federal law excluding openly gay people from the military started up the Congressional ladder this week—with a reluctant nod from the White House and a controversial rewrite. The increasing pressure for action on repeal stepped up, too, with a protester once again interrupting a speech by President Obama—this time in San Francisco on Tuesday night—to demand action.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) submitted an amendment to the House Rules Committee Tuesday using language that was agreed upon during a meeting at the White House Monday.
Only one person who participated in that meeting has identified himself—Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN).
The Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United, a gay veterans group, also had at least one representative at the meeting, but neither organization would identify who that was.
The White House declined to identify or confirm any participants, but at least one source familiar with the meeting said it included White House of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s deputy Jim Messina. That source provided the information only on the condition of anonymity.
CNN reported that “top congressional Democrats” also participated in the meeting. A press release from SLDN indicated that DOD officials helped craft the amendment.
But on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday night, Murphy took credit for the language, evening calling it the “Murphy Amendment.”
The amendment calls for repeal to take place only after two things occur: 1) the Secretary of Defense receives the implementation report he has asked for by December 1, and 2) “The President transmits to the congressional defense committees a written certification, signed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stating” that three additional things have been accomplished. Those three things are: 1) that the three men have “considered the recommendations contained in the report and the report’s proposed plan of action,” 2) the DOD has “prepared the necessary policies and regulations to exercise” repeal, and 3) that the implementation of those policies and regulations is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
HRC, SLDN, and Servicemembers United all issued statements Monday praising the compromise.
“Today’s announcement paves the path to fulfill the President’s call to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese in a statement. Solmonese did not return this reporter’s call for an interview.
The “announcement” Solmonese was referring to was a letter, from Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget to Murphy and the Senate sponsor of a bill to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Joe Lieberman. Orszag’s letter, dated May 24, said the administration believes the “ideal scenario” would have DOD complete its study on how to implement repeal “before the Congress takes legislative action.”
But given that “Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now,” wrote Orszag, the Administration is indicating it believes the proposed amendment “meets the concerns” raised by the DOD.
SLDN Executive Director Sarvis called the announcement a “dramatic breakthrough in dismantling ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
Servicemembers Untied Executive Director Alexander Nicholson called the announcement “long awaited, much needed, and immensely helpful….” Nicholson is a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under DADT.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), openly gay members of Congress, said they support the compromise amendment.
In a phone interview Tuesday evening, Frank called it a “very good solution” that will “get rid of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Rep. Tammy Baldwin did not return a call for comment, but her office issued a statement saying that she expects the House to repeal DADT this week and that it will be “one more step on the patch to full civil rights for all LGBT Americans.”
But some activists seem uneasy with the compromise.
Richard Socarides, a former White House aide to President Clinton—albeit after the adoption of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell—said “it doesn’t really provide for repeal of law until some uncertain date in the future.”
“There’s no affirmative statement that the government is getting out of the business of discrimination against gay people…and actual repeal,” he said “is subject to a future discretionary finding by the president and the Pentagon.”
Pam Spaulding, whose political blog pamshouseblend.com has won considerable respect among political activists, said the “subjective nature of the final sign off for certification places the decision in the hands of those concerned about the views of the anti-gay quarters of the military versus those service members who are silenced about their lives under DADT.”
Criticism also came from the Los Angeles Times, which published an editorial in Tuesday’s paper saying the compromise is “laudable” and the “first real progress” toward repeal since the policy was established in 1993. But it also criticized the compromise, saying it “isn’t quite the outright rejection we’d like to see” of DADT.
When this reporter asked Rep. Frank whether he had any concerns about the conditions put on the repeal measure in the compromise language, he derided the question and anyone who would criticize the compromise. He said there would always be critics of whatever language is offered and that those critics “will always assume the worst” and “put the worst possible spin” on the measure. Frank also confirmed that he was not at Monday’s White House meeting.
Rep. Jared Polis will be at the House Rules committee meeting Wednesday afternoon (May 26). Polis is one of nine Democrats and four Republicans on the committee who decide which amendments can be brought up on the floor of the House during consideration of a bill. The Committee will also decide approximately when that amendment will come up during debate on the annual defense authorization bill –it could be as early as Thursday, or as late as Friday.
The Senate Armed Services Committee—meeting entirely in closed sessions—will debate the same compromise amendment this week, probably Thursday. The Committee’s debate and vote won’t be made public until after it completes the defense funding bill markup—sometime Friday.
Meanwhile, there has been considerable posturing on the issue in a wide variety of quarters.
House Republicans told reporters Tuesday that they plan to vigorously oppose the repeal measure and may even vote against the defense authorization bill if the repeal amendment is approved. Rep. Buck McKeon, ranking minority member on the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing supporters of repeal as “intent on rushing a vote to the floor because they fear the votes will not be there if they wait.”
Right-wing conservatives are upset at the White House’s announcement Monday. They say the compromise amendment is a “back-room deal” between President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Echoing McKeon’s words, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said the deal is the Democrats’ way: “to get what they can now” before mid-term elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a speech in San Francisco last weekend that she feels “quite certain” that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell “will be a memory come Christmas.” And her audience, at a celebration of Harvey Milk Day in San Francisco, cheered wildly.
But President Obama said nothing about the policy on Saturday, as he delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, receiving occasional polite applause. When Obama traveled to San Francisco Tuesday to speak at a fundraiser for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), he was interrupted by a heckler, much the same as he was in Los Angeles at a fundraiser for Boxer on April 19.
According to a report from a journalist covering the event for the White House press pool, a man in the audience yelled out “Move faster on ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’”
Gay reporter Rex Wockner reported the heckler was GetEqual co-founder Kip Williams, who said he was “arrested, cited and released.”
Videotape of the event showed Obama, looking somewhat annoyed, saying the protester should buy a ticket to an event of someone who opposes repeal.
On the Rachel Maddow Show Tuesday night, Rep. Murphy said “The White House has been terrific” in supporting the measure.
A CNN poll released Tuesday indicated 78 percent of 1,023 adults surveyed May 21-23 (with a margin of error of plus/minus 3 points) said gays should be allowed to serve in the military. That was down three points from 2008, but up nine points from February of this year.
And an informal survey by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund of “some 20,000” readers of its new aggregator site, “Leadership SmartBrief,” said as of Wednesday, May 26, 71.1 percent of respondents said “Yes,” when asked “Should Congress return authority to the president and the Pentagon to create a policy on openly gay troops?” Another 18.7 percent said “No,” and 10.2 percent said they were “unsure.”