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Movement toward a repeal of the military’s ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy continued forward this week with renewed vigor, as both the House and the Senate, as well as constituents, took significant steps to push the repeal effort forward. Talk of a moratorium continued, even as Pentagon civilian and military officials testified before both the House and the Senate for a more expanded timeline that would keep control with the Pentagon for the time being.
Sen. Joseph Liberman (I-Conn.) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would repeal the policy, replace it with a nondiscrimination policy based on sexual orientation and give the Pentagon a timeline for implementing the policies and regulations impacted by the changes. The bill, S. 3065, is the first such bill introduced in the Senate, and has 13 co-sponsors, including the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).
The Senate Armed Services Committee, of which Lieberman is a member, heard from the Air Force chiefs on Thursday. Lieberman told Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz that the issue comes down to ”whether one believes that men and women in uniform, who are otherwise capable . . . should be discharged solely based on their sexual orientation.”
Donley said, ”My personal view is, no, they should not.” Schwartz, who previously expressed caution before the House Armed Services Committee, said, ”The answer to that question is a complicated one,” but concluded, ”I’m not sure that is the case at the moment.”
Saying that he takes a ”pragmatic view of this, not the philosophical view you have taken,” Gen. Schwartz responded, ”My personal feeling is acting now is premature.”
In response, Lieberman said, ”The bill that we put in yesterday . . . embraces a delayed time schedule.”
Outside of the military, however, the time schedule of the bill also is in question, as no Republicans have thus far co-sponsored the bill, although Lieberman’s sponsorship of the bill led many to speculate that his good relationship on both security and LGBT issues might help win the vote of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.). Additionally, on the Democratic side, Maryland’s Sen. Ben Cardin (D) was the only senator from Maryland or Virginia to co-sponsor the bill at its introduction.
Meanwhile, the House held its first hearings into the policy since 2008, with the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday from three of the most important Pentagon voices on the repeal.
Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) explained that the hearing was about the ”Depart of Defense process for implementing a repeal” of the policy and that ”the question is not whether, but how and when” the policy will be repealed – recalling a similar statement made by Defense Secretary Robert Gates before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February.
Clifford Stanley, the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, was confirmed only recently by the Senate and noted that he had only ”been on the job now for just about two weeks,” largely deferring to the co-chairs of the Pentagon working group on repeal implementation announced by Gates in February.
Department of Defense General Counsel Jeh Johnson and U.S. Army Europe Commanding General Gen. Carter Ham, along with Stanley, offered a joint statement that briefly laid out the process and plans of the working group, most notably that its report is due to Secretary Gates no later than Dec. 1, 2010.
The working group has been organized with four teams, reflecting different areas of implementation – from legislative and regulatory issues to education and training.
Johnson, however, described the primary aim of the working group to the subcommittee, saying, ”The goal is to assess the impacts of a repeal of 10 U.S. 654 [the provision of U.S. law the enacted the current policy] . . . and to develop an implementation plan should there be a repeal.”
The ranking Republican member of the subcommittee, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), served as the primary questioner from the Republican side. Of the prospect of allowing the Pentagon review to be completed prior to congressional action, he said, ”I fully support this approach.”
Wilson said that the final responsibility for addressing the ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy lies with Congress and said, ”No action should be taken” until it is determined ”why the current law undermines readiness” and ”if the repeal would improve readiness in any significant ways.”
Wilson questioned repeatedly whether the Pentagon Working Group would do that. After Johnson explained how ”a necessary component would be to look at the two questions you asked”, Ham responded more simply, ”We will clearly examine that.”
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), a veteran who has taken the lead on repealing the policy in the House, asked the generals to take note of the military publication, Joint Force Quarterly, article, ”The Efficacy of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’,” which concluded, ”[I]t is not time for the administration to reexamine the issue; rather it is time for the administration to examine how to implement the repeal of the ban.”
Murphy and Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) also expressed concern with how the military was going to get the input of gay and lesbian servicemembers while the policy is in place — the concern being that the policy requires separation if a servicemember makes a statement that the individual is not heterosexual.
Gen. Ham said, ”We must find a way . . . to reach out and hear from homosexuals” currently serving. ”I’m not sure how we’re going to do that just yet.” He then discussed the possibility of having a third-party not associated with the military, who would have no obligation to report the statement to military officials, conduct focus groups with servicemembers so that gays and lesbians currently serving could be honest.
Tsongas shot back that she thought ”a more appropriate way to go forward is a moratorium” – a position that has the support of the subcommittee chairwoman and also is a position repeatedly advanced by Sen. Levin, the Senate committee chairman.
As congressional hearings were ongoing, members and supporters of the Human Rights Campaign engaged in lobbying – both in person and ”virtually” – on a ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal in 2010. As HRC’s Michael Cole wrote at the HRC Back Story blog, ”We’re holding a virtual lobby day to coincide with the meetings taking place on Capitol Hill.” As some went to offices, others took to the phones, urging for a full repeal of the law this year.