Four days after President Obama said there will be enough time, “potentially,” to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during the lame-duck Congress, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters that he is “not sure” what the prospects are for repealing it this year. And a Defense Department spokesman said, “I am not prepared at this time… to tell you what action we expect to take” once a Pentagon study on implementation of repeal is submitted December 1.
The bottom line: Prospects will continue to be uncertain until the Pentagon working group that has been studying how to best implement a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT).
The House passed its repeal legislation inside the annual defense authorization bill, but the Senate has yet to take up the defense bill, in large part because Republicans have filibustered it over the DADT repeal language. It takes 60 votes to break that filibuster and Democrats came up three votes short in September.
Asked about the repeal’s chances now that Democrats have a much smaller majority in the Senate, President Obama repeated his oft-stated support for the change to come “in an orderly fashion,” but noted that polls indicate the “overwhelming majority of Americans” support repeal of DADT.
“I’ve worked with the Pentagon, worked with Secretary Gates, worked with Admiral Mullen to make sure that we are looking at this in a systemic way that maintains good order and discipline,” said Obama. “But we need to change this policy.”
The president said he expects Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen “will have something to say” about the Pentagon study when it is submitted.
“I will look at it very carefully,” said President Obama. “But that will give us time to act in—potentially during the lame duck session to change this policy.”
Part one of the lame-duck session of the Senate runs November 15-19, with the potential for votes only on Wednesday through Friday. Congress breaks for Thanksgiving, then part two of the lame-duck sessions begins November 29 and runs until adjournment, which has not been defined beyond “when work is completed.” It could run until December 31.
At a press “availability” in Melbourne, Australia, where Gates was participating in a U.S.-Australia anniversary of ministerial meetings, a reporter asked him Sunday, “Do you see any prospect for passage of START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] and repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in the lame duck?” Neither measure currently has 60 votes to break a Republican-led filibuster.
“I hope that the …Senate will ratify a new START,” said Gates. “I think it’s in our interest. Both the chairman and I have testified why we think it’s in our security interest to ratify the treaty.”
But his words regarding DADT were more guarded.
“I would like to see the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but I’m not sure what the prospects for that are and we’ll just have to see.”
DOD spokesman Geoff Morrell was asked a similar question during a Pentagon briefing last Thursday. He responded that “what Congress decides to do legislatively with regards to … [DADT] or any other issue for that matter, is largely their business.” He noted that the Pentagon working group preparing the report concerning how to implement repeal of DADT is “very much on track to meet that deadline.”
“So I think in… 26 days time, the secretary will have the work product that he thinks is so necessary for us to be able to fully understand the full implications of a repeal of [DADT] and then what additional measures we need to take for—in preparation for that eventuality.”
A reporter noted that Morrell seemed to indicate that DOD is “urging congressional action on START but not urging it on DADT. Morrell said “No,” but his follow-up comments and those of Gates Sunday seemed to suggest that DOD is less enthusiastic about pushing DADT repeal than START.
“Let’s let [the DADT repeal report] finish, let’s let the secretary get it and consider it, and then we’ll chart a course from there,” said Morrell.
A reporter asked Morrell whether DOD “might have more to say to Congress” about repealing DADT after studying the report.
“I am not prepared at this time… to tell you what action we expect to take upon receipt of the report,” said Morrell. “All I can tell you right now is … the working group is coming to a conclusion with its report. They expect to make the December 1st deadline, which was a very ambitious one the—the secretary put in place last February for consideration of the full ramifications of repeal across every aspect of how we do business in this department. So once the secretary gets it, I am sure that it will be a priority item for him to review and consider and then provide leadership for this department on how to move out based upon what the report tells us.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Monday (November 8) that Republican Senator John McCain, who has been leading the filibuster against DADT, is “in talks” with pro-repeal Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The paper said they are talking about “stripping the proposed [DADT] repeal and other controversial provisions” from the defense bill. The Journal did not quote a source for that piece of information.
Aubrey Sarvis of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued a statement Sunday saying, “Any talk about a watered down defense bill, whereby the ‘Don’t Ask’ revisions would be stripped out, is unacceptable and offensive to the gay and lesbian service members who risk their lives every day.”
During his comments last Wednesday, Obama also took another slam at a Log Cabin Republican lawsuit, pending in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. A federal district court judge ruled DADT is unconstitutional and the Department of Justice has appealed the decision. He said it “would be very disruptive to good order and discipline and unit cohesion …if we’ve got this issue bouncing around in the courts, as it already has over the last several weeks, where the Pentagon and the chain of command doesn’t know at any given time what rules they’re working under.”
“We need to provide certainty and it’s time for us to move this policy forward,” said Obama. “And this should not be a partisan issue. This is an issue, as I said, where you’ve got a sizable portion of the American people squarely behind the notion that folks who are willing to serve on our behalf should be treated fairly and equally.”
Meanwhile, on Friday, November 5, Log Cabin filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the high court to overturn a stay issued by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals last Monday. That stay postponed enforcement of a federal district court judge’s injunction against enforcement of DADT until the 9th Circuit can rule on the government’s appeal of the district court decision.