Gates To Congress: Don’t Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell This Year

As part of the Obama administration’s plan to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), the Pentagon has convened a “Working Group” that is meeting with servicemembers, chaplains, and others individuals about how to repeal the ban on gay men and women serving openly in the military. The process is going to take until at least Dec. 1, 2010, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has said that the President is committed to letting the group complete its work before moving forward. Some members of Congress have raised the possibility of passing DADT repeal legislation this year — before the review process is complete — and delaying implementation until next year.

However, today Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) a letter (in response to an inquiry from Skelton) telling him that he doesn’t want Congress to take any action at all on DADT this year. From the letter obtained by ThinkProgress:

I believe in the strongest possible terms that the Department must, prior to any legislative action, be allowed the opportunity to conduct a thorough, objective, and systematic assessment of the impact of such a policy change; develop an attentive comprehensive implementation plan, and provide the President and the Congress with the results of this effort in order to ensure that this step is taken in the most informed and effective matter. […]

Therefore, I strongly oppose any legislation that seeks to change this policy prior to the completion of this vital assessment process.

Gates’ moratorium on any DADT action this year is troubling. Thirteen Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to replace DADT with a new nondiscrimination policy that “prohibits discrimination against service members on the basis of their sexual orientation.” The Senate bill mirrors Rep. Patrick Murphy’s (D-PA) repeal bill in the House but goes several steps further, laying out a timeline for repeal and setting benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review of the policy.

Gates’ stance makes it significantly harder for Congress to help fulfill Obama’s pledge to repeal DADT and has some supporters of repeal questioning the Pentagon’s dedication to moving forward. Democrats in Congress will have a tougher time attracting moderate and Republican co-sponsors in light of this letter, and if Congress waits until next year — after the Pentagon review is completed — to move forward on legislation, the make-up of the legislature will be different and could again delay repeal.