Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) is the only area senator who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Webb, who served as secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, had in the past been an opponent of equal treatment for women in the military. When asked about the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy in an interview during his 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate, Webb said, ''That's a policy that's working,'' and left it at that.
Webb's comments on Tuesday, Feb. 2, though uncommitted to repeal of the policy, suggest an openness to repeal that was not there in 2006.
Responding to the statements of support for repeal made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Webb said: ''I salute both of you for very careful statements and Adm. Mullen for the courage of what you said. But I want to also emphasize you balanced that in your statement, saying you don't know what's going to come out of this. We don't know.''
Webb continued by noting, ''What we're looking for here is an examination of the present law. What is the most damaging aspect of the present policy? And I think, Adm. Mullen, you made a powerful statement about the integrity of the individual as your deciding factor on your personal view.
''On the other hand, what's the great value of this law if we were to do away with it and move to something else? What are the perils of undoing the law? Where are we going? Would we know we're going in the proper direction? We don't -- we can't really say that today.''
Webb made it clear, however, that he believed that Congress should wait to act until the body hears from those serving in the military. He told the witnesses -- and, presumably, his fellow Democratic senators who advocated in the hearing for a repeal -- that ''whether the ultimate decision might be here with the Congress, that decision can't be made in a proper way without a full and open input from all of those who are serving, not just combatant commanders. Family members, people who are in the operating units.''
Webb concluded by agreeing with the plan for Gates's announced review, saying, ''[W]e have a duty in a very proper way to understand the impact of this on operating units, to raise the level of understanding of the complexity of this issue among the American people -- and up here -- as well as attempting to deal fairly with this issue.''
Although no other area senators were at Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) offered this statement: ''America is fighting two wars, supporting humanitarian operations in Haiti, and fighting against al-Qaeda and other terrorists around the world. We should be grateful for the bravery and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and [M]arines -- gay or straight -- who defend our nation. Sexual orientation, race, religion or gender, should never be used to determine the contributions any man or woman makes to our military or anywhere in our society.
'''Don't Ask, Don't Tell' runs contrary to the core American belief of equality and Congress should repeal it promptly.''
A spokesperson later added that Cardin would only support a moratorium on ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell''-related discharges ''if it's part of a repeal."
A spokesperson for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) also released a statement: ''Sen. Mikulski believes the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy regarding gays in the military must be repealed. She opposed these regulations when they were instituted in 1993, and opposes them now. She believes the only criteria for military service should be the ability to serve -- not one's race, gender, or sexual orientation.''
A spokesperson from the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) did not respond to a message seeking comment.