This afternoon, Defense Department spokesperson Geoff Morrell gave the Pentagon’s strongest endorsement yet of passing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal during the lame duck session of the Senate. Speaking to reporters at a news conference, Morrell said that the Pentagon, as part of the Obama administration, is “pushing for and we certainly see the merit in using that as a legislative vehicle to get repeal”:
MORRELL: Historically, this Department has not been one to tell the Senate how to do its business. That said, we are a member of this administration and this President had made a call, as I understand it, to Sen. Levin this week and Sen Reid I believe as well, making it clear he wants to see the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell attached to the National Defense Authorization Act and that’s what we as an administration are pushing for, and we certainly see the merit in using that as the legislative vehicle to ultimately get to repeal.
Morrell, who reiterated that the study would not be released before December the 1, also argued that the Pentagon was responding to the concerns of those pressing for repeal and operating under an expedited timeline. “I would just remind you that the original plan here was for us to work towards December the 1 as the date by which the report would be due and then the internal work would begin,” he said. “We have compressed that timeline such that we are now operating on parallel tracks. Not only is the draft report still being finalized, but we are also doing the internal work that would have taken place after December 1st simultaneously so that we can, on December the 1, not just release the report but the Secretary can state where he wants to take us with regards to this measure.”
“There is a lot of work to do between now and then because we have compressed this. Sensitive to the fact that there is a real desire for direction on this,” he said. Gates is “actively working to get this done on an expedited timeline.” “You have also heard him really really strongly lately on his real concern in regards to court action being the mechanism that ultimately leads to a change in this law and policy. The fear there is that it would be a very precipitous change and force us to change on a dime, with the flick of a light switch, if you will,” Morrell added.
Morrell had struck a far less bullish tone in his last press briefing on November 4th. At that point, in discussing priorities for the lame duck session of Congress, Morrell said that “we are clearly urging Congressional action, echoing the President on [ratifying the] START treaty,” but stopped short of calling on Congress to move quickly towards ending the ban. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen “want a study to take place in advance of that repeal to educate us how to deal” with repeal, he had said. Last week, at a press availability en route to Melbourne, Australia, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates did tell reporters that he would like Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in the lame duck session but was “not sure what the prospects for that are.”
The new tone could be attributed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) and the White House’s renewed commitment to bringing the measure to a vote during the lame duck session. Earlier today, at least 13 Senators also held a press conference urging the Senate to act, and pledged to extend the session to Christmas to pass the measure before the end of the year. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — a co-sponsor of the repeal amendment in the Senate — even suggested that Democrats had 60 votes and (if the measure were considered under a more open process) the the possible commitment of Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME) and Richard Lugar (IN).
Morrell also updated reporters on the progress of the Pentagon’s investigation into a recent leak of the report to the Washington Post. Gates has “tasked the Department of Inspector General to conduct an investigation that hopefully will identify the source behind the Washington Post report and hopefully then we’ll take appropriate action,” he said.