Robert Gates’ strong resistance to repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) before the Pentagon working group concludes its full assessment of how changing the policy would affect the military may be a set-back for repeal advocates, but it’s not insurmountable or surprising. Gates has slow-walked the repeal process since announcing the formation of the group back in February and now the military seems intent on setting policy ahead of the administration. But if the purpose of the group is to study how rather than if the policy should be changed, then the administration could very well endorse a measure that sets congressional repeal in motion and accommodates the needs of the military. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) has already proposed legislation that lays out a timeline for repeal and sets benchmarks for the Pentagon’s ongoing review:
- Day of enactment: discharges would have to stop.
- Within 270 days of the bill’s enactment: the Pentagon working group must make its final recommendations on implementing repeal (the bill calls for a formal report to be submitted to Congress).
- Within 60 days of the final report to Congress: the Department of Defense must provide revised regulations reflecting repeal.
- Within another 60 days: each military branch must provide revised regulations reflecting repeal.
This kind of model places Congress and the Pentagon on two separate tracks — Congress passes legislation to repeal the policy, but the repeal isn’t fully carried out until the military is ready to act. Over the weekend, Brian Bond, LGBT liaison for the White House, “didn’t say whether the White House supports such a move but said an endorsement of such a proposal is part of an ‘ongoing discussion.’ “I think that’s an ongoing discussion right now,” Bond replied. “Again, there are several camps here trying to figure out — don’t forget, at the end of the day, it is Congress that will repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ not us.” On Saturday, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United “that there is a 30% to 40% chance that it will happen this year.”
The administration’s public comments have been far less optimistic, however. “The President’s commitment to repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how,” the White House sad in a statement responding to Gates’ letter. “That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”