Saying that they had been “focused” on the vote, a senior White House aide intimately familiar with the administration’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal efforts was unwilling to say whether President Obama agrees with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) that DADT-releated investigations and discharges should be halted immediately.
The aide made the comments to Metro Weekly following the 63-33 successful cloture vote on the stand-alone DADT repeal bill was held a little before noon today.
Saying that “this vote today was an affirmation of a plan the president laid out in State of the Union address this year,” the senior aide, who would not speak on the record as a condition of the interview, said that repeal was a topic of “the very first conversation” Obama had with the Pentagon leadership.
“That strategy paid off today in a very strong bipartisan vote.”
After that vote — and the foregone conclusion by all advocates and lawmakers that the majority vote for final passage would succeed when it is expected to be held at 3 p.m. today — attention quickly turned to what will happen next.
The prospect of ending discharges and investigations immediately was raised by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis, who told Metro Weekly, “I think it’s a practical, realistic approach that reflects where we stand today. There’s this hiatus, there’s this limbo, and who wants to be the last servicemember discharged under ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
As Sarvis said in a statement, “I respectfully ask Defense Secretary Robert Gates to use his authority to suspend all ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ investigations during this interim period. Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day Congressional period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law.”
At a news conference following the cloture vote, both Reid and Levin endorsed Sarvis’s approach, with Reid affirming his support in a one-word answer when asked by a reporter if he supported ending discharges and investigations immediately: “Yes.”
After the news conference, responding to a question from Metro Weekly about whether Sarvis had spoken with anyone at the Pentagon about the possibility, he said, “I’ve only had a preliminary conversation at the Department, and I’d rather not go into right now.”
As to the White House view of ending discharges and investigations immediately, the senior aide who spoke with Metro Weekly said that the White House would be working the Pentagon “on how to implement this the right way.”
The senior aide added, “But, clearly, this week when the President signs this bill … it’s very clear where this is going.”
Pressed on the fact that the issue of ending investigations and discharges immediately is being raised because the DADT law remains in effect — even after Obama would sign the bill — until the certification process and 60-day congressional review period have happened, the senior aide would not commit either way.
“We’re examining every issue here,” the senior White House aide said. “The next steps are next steps and we’re still working on that.”
Sarvis, though, said he doesn’t think the status quo makes sense after today’s vote.
“Obviously, the discharges have slowed down, but that’s not enough because there’s still the fear of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ So, let’s stop the investigations,” Sarvis said. “And if we stop the investigations and we stop the discharges until we have final repeal, that’s the practical approach to take now.”
[UPDATE @ 5:30 PM: It should be noted that the current implementation of the policy is far more limited than it had been for most of its 17 years. As Metro Weekly reported on Oct. 21:
Discharges under the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy will now take the approval of the service branch secretary, and only in consultation with the defense department general counsel and the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, according to a pair of memoranda issued by senior military leadership on Thursday.
Because the discharge process has been put at such a high level, the most significant portion of SLDN’s request is the call for an end to DADT-related investigations.]