Opponents of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) have grown increasingly frustrated at the administration’s unwillingness to support including repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization bill. With unprecedented support within the Pentagon, favorable public opinion within the ranks and the public, repeal legislation introduced in the Senate and House, and the unpleasantness of having to defend the policy in court, one would think that ending the policy would be a no brainer for a White House interested in re-energizing its base and advancing a significant piece of its agenda.
But as AmericaBLOG and Kerry Eleveld of the Advocate have chronicled, the White House has repeatedly avoided taking a strong stance on repeal and may be actively urging some Members of Congress “not to include the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” in the Defense Authorization bill, and not to have a vote on DADT on the House floor, this year.” An unnamed “White House official” denied these reports last week “without stating whether or not the White House did indeed want a vote this year.” In fact, the administration has implied the contrary, suggesting that it would wait for the Pentagon to review the policy and work with Congress to repeal the bill sometime thereafter.
This morning, Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, sent a letter to Obama urging him to reconsider and “reaffirm” his commitment to end the policy:
I am very disturbed by multiple reports from Capitol Hill that your Congressional liaison team is urging some Members of Congress to avoid a vote on repeal this year. The upcoming House and Senate votes will be close, and very frankly, Mr. President, we need your help now.
As a veteran, and on behalf of thousands of men and women who have served and want to serve their country openly, I ask you today to stand by your encouraging words to the American people in your State of The Union address: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are. It’s the right thing to do.”
Mr. President, this is also about the integrity of all service members. I respectfully urge you to continue speaking up for them on Capitol Hill. Under your leadership and with your voice we can have a repeal victory this year.
Indeed, while the administration has taken some important steps towards gay equality — it passed hate-crimes legislation, extended “certain benefits” to same-sex partners of federal employees, appointed openly gay individuals to key positions, began the process of ending the HIV travel ban and required hospitals to grant visitation rights to gay couples — it has been reluctant to loudly push for the more controversial elements of the agenda. In fact, the White House even waited until late afternoon of Thursday April 15th to issue the non-controversial hospital regulations, missing the publishing deadlines for many LGBT papers.
The administration has been operating under the radar on LGBT issues and seems intent on applying the same non-confrontational approach to DADT as it employed for health reform — give a third party time and space to try and forge a compromise without doing too much to shape the debate and then reclaim control of the process just as it’s heading under, orchestrating a last minute all-out push to secure passage. The good news is that this has worked once and so the administration could succeed by waiting for the Pentagon to produce its study, giving both political parties and the military an opportunity to weigh in on the process. The bad news is, passage won’t come as quickly or smoothly as advocates would like and the final bill will be far from perfect.
For those ready to end the policy this year, waiting for the administration to pull yet another rabbit out of its hat is as frustrating as getting the President to weigh in on health reform after the Massachusetts election, and probably far less probable. Several groups including the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network have argued that a drawn out process would actually undermine successful repeal and have outlined responsible proposals for ending the policy the policy before the Pentagon finishes its study. Unfortunately, the administration may now be moving in the opposite direction.
GetEQUAL announced it will protest President Obama today in L.A. over DADT. From the press release:
To demand that President Obama include DADT repeal language in his Defense Authorization budget that is in the process of being sent to Congress, and that he publicly state his support for repeal this year. While the President firmly committed to repeal DADT in his State of the Union this past January, since that time he has gone silent on whether he wants to see the anti-gay law repealed this year. Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) recently said that he is ‘disappointed’ and ‘frustrated’ with the Obama administration’s silence on DADT, and Frank has called on President Obama to publicly state his desire to repeal DADT this year.