Metro Weekly

White House Signals Support

Letter from OMB director Orszag states administration support for compromise to repeal DADT, ensure Pentagon time to complete its ''review''

In a two-paragraph statement devoid of the strong arguments for the repeal of the ”Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that have been made by repeal advocates over the past decade, the White House – through its budget director – nonetheless placed what could be the final nail in the coffin of the law underlying that policy on Monday evening, May 24.

The letter, signed by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, notes that ”[i]deally” the Pentagon working group review of implementation ”would be completed before Congress takes any legislative action.” However, since ”Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now,” the Administration reviewed a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act submitted by the lawmakers leading the repeal efforts in Congress.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) wrote the letter on Monday to President Barack Obama seeking ”the Administration’s official views” on ”a legislative proposal . . . that puts a process in place to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ once the working group has completed its review and you, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs certify that repeal can be achieved consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.”

Citing that the amendment would ”ensure” those precise standards are met, Orszag also wrote that the proposed amendment would ”guarantee that the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations needed to successfully implement the repeal.”

Although the language was not a passionate case for repeal, Aubrey Sarvis, the executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network said on Monday evening of the administration’s letter, ”The bottom line is in the last sentence.”

Orszag concluded his letter, ”The Administration therefore supports the proposed amendment.”

A copy of the proposed amendment, which was obtained by Metro Weekly on Monday night, details that the effective date of repeal of 10 U.S.C. Section 654 – the law underlying the DADT policy – would not happen until several conditions are met.

This includes ”a written certification, signed by the President, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff” that all three considered the recommendations of the working group, the Defense Department prepared the necessary policy and regulatory changes and the changes are ”consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

As such, and as separately noted in a subsection of the language, the change would have ”No Immediate Effect on Current Policy.” The proposed amendment specifically notes that it does not ”require the furnishing of benefits in violation of” the Defense of Marriage Act.

Lieberman is expected to introduce the proposed amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday or Thursday, and Murphy is expected to submit it to the Rules Committee on Tuesday afternoon with a floor vote expected Thursday or Friday.

Hitting on the reason why many observers said the compromise was needed, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement on Monday evening, ”Without a repeal vote by Congress this year, the Pentagon’s hands are tied and the armed forces will be forced to continue adhering to the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law.”

Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, said via e-mail on Monday night, ”This policy has been incredibly difficult to dismantle, and only Presidential leadership could rip it down. That’s what we got today.”

The Palm Center has been a leading source of academic research on the policy over the past decade, and Belkin, who has been skeptical of the chances of repeal this year, said, ”The White House showed real leadership today in dismantling ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”’

As Solmonese said, ”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.”

Sarvis concurred, saying, ”The amendment that’s going to be fully aired tomorrow is going to put us on the path to repeal.

”When ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is fully repealed, it is my hope that the White House would issue an exec order . . . with respect to sexual orientation,” he said. ”The reality is that the nondiscrimination policies that are in place in agencies have all been done by exec order since 1948.”

In a statement released Monday evening, Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson said, ”We have been making the case to White House staff for more than a year now that delayed implementation is realistic, politically viable, and the only way to get the defense community on board with repeal.”

Nicholson concluded, ”[W]e are glad to see the community and now the administration and defense leadership finally rally around this option.”

About the White House support, Sarvis said, ”I think it makes a difference to a number of House members.” About the Senate, however, he was more circumspect, saying, ”I’m not at liberty to say what Senator that makes a difference to.”

The flurry of letters into the evening on Monday followed a morning of Capitol Hill meetings in which, a Democratic leadership aide confirmed, the language of the proposed amendment was discussed.

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