This morning before a jubilant audience, President Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill into law. At the ceremony, Obama said, “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’ We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot. We are a nation that believes all men and women are created equal. Those are the ideals that generations have fought for. Those are the ideals we uphold today.”
But yesterday, in a last minute effort to derail the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tried to subvert today’s great civil rights achievement. McConnell tried to attach an amendment to the stripped-down National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would have required the Service Chiefs to certify that implementation did not compromise military readiness or unit cohesion. The amendment would have likely extended the current certification process — which already includes the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and President Obama — and undermined the intent of the legislation and the wishes of military leadership. From McConnell’s amendment:
Purpose: To include the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces in the certification required with respect to the repeal of the policy of the Department of Defense concerning homosexuality in the Armed Forces. [...]
At the end of subtitle J of title V, add the following:
SEC. 597. INCLUSION OF CHIEFS OF STAFF OF THE ARMED FORCES IN CERTIFICATION REQUIRED REGARDING REPEAL OF THE DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE POLICY CONCERNING HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE ARMED FORCES.
Republicans have long sought to include the Service Chiefs because, as a group, the Chiefs are generally less sanguine about repeal than Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen. During their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in early December, two of the Service Chiefs endorsed the Pentagon Working Group’s recommendation to lift the ban, while two others had mixed reactions. Gen. James Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, has warned lawmakers that repeal could endanger the lives of Marines. Regardless of their views, however, all four Chiefs said they trusted Gates to address their concerns before eliminating the policy and warned Republicans that expanding the certification process could undermine the chain of command:
Senator THUNE: Do you believe that the implementing legislation, if in fact this moves forward, should allow for the chiefs, the servicemembers, any of you, to certify? [...]
General CASEY: Senator, as I said to Senator Lieberman, I am very comfortable with my ability to provide input to Secretary Gates and to the Chairman that will be listened to and considered. So you could put it in there, but I don’t think it’s necessary. [...] It might take it up a notch. But believe me, I will make sure that my views are heard. The other thing. If you put that into the law, I think it undercuts the Goldwater-Nichols, that we’ve been trying to put the Chairman as the principal provider of military advice. So that’s something for the committee to consider.
Senator THUNE. Anybody else care to comment on that?
Admiral ROUGHEAD. Sir, I’m very comfortable with the access and the input that we’ve had. In fact, as the report came along I could see the changes that we were recommending. So I have no concerns whatsoever about my advice not being heard.
Watch it around 4:30:
Sources close to the negotiations say that Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) objected to McConnell’s amendment and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also opposed the measure.
Cross-posted on The Wonk Room.