Obama Deferred To Military On DADT, Pushed By Activists To Endorse Legislative Action This Year

Politico’s Josh Gerstein notes that the White House originally intended to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell over a two-year period, following an agreement with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that would have led to legislative action only after the Pentagon’s Working Group released its report in December. From the very beginning, the White House — learning from President Clinton’s failed effort to push for a policy of open service — had deferred the repeal strategy to the Pentagon, but many Democrats and LGBT advocates actually forced the White House to change its overly cautious policy:

“The deal we understand was made between Obama and [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates was that it would be a two-year process,” said one gay rights activist who talks regularly with White House officials and asked not to be identified. […]

What the White House’s slow-but-steady approach failed to anticipate was the rise of online activism by repeal advocates and the impatience those advocates would show based on polls indicating as many as 75 percent of Americans support “don’t ask” repeal. While many organized gay groups deferred to a greater or lesser extent to the White House’s strategy and timeline, bloggers like John Aravosis and in-your-face protesters like Dan Choi did not. The online activists and upstart groups never bought into the wait-for-the-Pentagon approach, even after Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented historic testimony in February endorsing an end to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

And after Democrats began to suffer electoral defeats earlier this year in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts, gay advocates began to fear that Obama’s plan to defer legislation on the subject to 2011 might doom the repeal effort altogether if Republicans took one or both chambers of Congress. […]

The White House’s Plan A involved a Pentagon study for release in December 2010, followed by legislation thereafter. But in May, advocates won the White House’s public support for conditional repeal legislation that attempted to work around the next-Congress problem by giving Obama, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs power to end the policy when the studies were complete.

Even that contingent plan was awkward for the White House, since it upended Obama’s initial agreement with Gates, who faces service chiefs staunchly opposed to repeal. “It started getting real messy,” said one person close to the talks. “The president was in a very tough spot.”

The administration remained mum as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted in February and then again in April that the review should help inform the legislative process and maintained that Obama was committed to letting the group complete its work before moving forward. The White House has been reluctant to lobby moderate senators to include repeal legislation in this year’s defense authorization act and at times appeared unfamiliar with the different strategies for ending the policy this year.


For instance, it wasn’t until May 24th — three days before the House voted to include a gradual repeal amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act — that the the White House issued a statement in support of the amendment. The statement came only after the WH won the approval of Gates, who issued his own a terse endorsement of the gradual repeal approach shortly thereafter.

And the White House still appears deferential. In its decision to appeal the recent federal court ruling, the administration echoed the Secretary’s suggestion that a drawn out repeal process would actually help gay soldiers. Ending enforcement of the policy “before the appeal in this case has run its course will place gay and lesbian servicemembers in a position of grave uncertainty,” the government wrote in its appeal request. “If the Court’s decision were later reversed, the military would be faced with the question of whether to discharge any servicemembers who have revealed their sexual orientation in reliance on this Court’s decision and injunction.”