On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) echoed Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) concerns about the soon-to-be-released Pentagon study of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, predicting that there isn’t “anywhere near the votes to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “On the Republican side, I think we will be united in the lame duck [session] and the study I would be looking for is asking military members: Should it be repealed, not how to implement it once you as a politician decide to repeal it,” he said, adding, “So I think in a lame duck setting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is not going anywhere.”
But a cursory examination of Graham’s past public statements about DADT repeal suggest that the above comments represent a serious rhetorical shift. Graham has previously argued that he was open to repeal if the military supported lifting the ban. Now, he’s criticizing the very same study he said he was waiting to see and review before reaching a decision and he’s making that argument on the eve of the study’s release, as the Pentagon lavishes praise on the ‘comprehensive’ nature of the review:
July 2009: “’Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a policy I think has served the country well,” said South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, a prosecutor in the Air Force Reserve. “Why should we change it? I’m not going to be persuaded to change military policy by a bunch of political activists. If the military leadership tells me that ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ needs to be changed, I’ll certainly be open-minded to that.”
October 2009: “They [military] should be included in this,” said Graham. “I am open-minded to what the military may suggest, but I can tell you, I’m not going to make policy based on a campaign rally.”
February 2010: “Statutory changes to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I think, are ill advised until the military has a chance to tell us what works and what doesn’t.”
May 2010: “I do not support the idea of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell before our military members and commanders complete their review. This so-called compromise would repeal the legislation first then receive input from the military. This is not the proper way to change any policy, particularly something as controversial as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Graham is likely offering McCain cover for opposing repeal and is trying to line-up support in the GOP caucus, despite the Pentagon’s endorsement of the review and the servicemembers’ strong support for ending the policy. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explained to McCain, “The Chairman and I fully support the approach and the efforts of the working group, as do the Service Chiefs. We are confident that the working group’s report will provide us with the information we need to appropriately advise the President, and, if requested to do so, to provide our fully informed views to Congress as it considers legislative action.”
Graham’s rhetoric may also serve as preview of some of the arguments moderate lawmakers — who promised to review the study before voting on repeal — will make to substantiate their ‘no’ votes. They’ll claim that the study was flawed from the very beginning, suddenly closing their “open” minds about repeal.