President Barack Obama agrees that the Department of Justice’s decision to use Gen. Collin Powell’s past support for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) to defend a policy he no longer agrees with is “odd,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said at today’s White House press briefing. Gibbs stressed that the DOJ must uphold current law, but admitted that the legal challenge to DADT (Log Cabin Republicans v. United States) places the government in the awkward position of defending a policy the administration does not support:
KERRY ELEVELD (THE ADVOCATE): Is the president at all concerned that DOJ is a little insular or tone deaf on issues that are sort of politically sticky, especially those of interest to the LGBT community?
GIBBS: I will say this, obviously the President has enunciated his support for ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” rolling back — made a commitment to roll back DOMA in the campaign. Obviously, the Justice Department has — is charged with upholding the law as it exists, not as the President would like to see it. We have obviously taken steps on the front of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and I think we’ve made a genuine amount of progress. I will say, was it odd that they included previous statements from General Colin Powell on a belief set that he no longer had? I don’t think the President would disagree with that.
Gibbs’ comments may be refreshing, but the administration’s refusal to lay out a time line for repealing DADT and its complete reliance on the Pentagon’s policy review suggests that the President is not planning on turning the the DOJ debacle into an opportunity. Obama could argue that the DOJ’s reliance on Powell’s outdated arguments and debunked conservative talking points undermines the credibility of the government and hurts the repeal effort. He could announce that he’s calling on Congress to insert repeal legislation into this year’s Defense Authorization bill to meet his administration’s commitment to civil rights and equality and keep his pledge to the LGBT community. (Incidentally, CAP’s Larry Korb has laid out eight areas where the military must change rules and regulations in order to effectively implement the new policy in short order.) But, from the tone of Gibbs’ answer, this is unlikely. The administration will silently watch as the DOJ defends the policy it’s promised to overturn.
Meanwhile, Palm Center Director Aaron Belkin and Senior Fellow Nathaniel Frank, who recently gave depositions in this case are claiming that the DOJ misrepresented their arguments about “whether privacy concerns for service members constituted a rational basis for the enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993.” Palm’s House Blend reports that attorneys representing the Log Cabin Republicans “now plan to use new depositions by Belkin and Frank in its response to the DOJ brief.” Read them here.