February 10, 2010 at 10:40 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Moderate senators back Pentagon’s ‘Don’t Ask’ review

Several moderate senators favor plans by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to study how best to implement repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

Some moderate members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are getting behind the Pentagon’s review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” without explicitly expressing support for repeal.

DC Agenda asked several senators of the committee for their thoughts on last week’s hearing on the law prohibiting gays from serving openly in the U.S. military — and their positions on overturning it.

During the hearing, Defense Secretary Robert Gates unveiled plans for a Pentagon study that would examine implementation of repeal should Congress decide to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Gates said he supports President Obama’s efforts at working to repeal the law and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen said he personally believes gays should be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said, “the thing that stood out” during the hearing was how top military leaders “are looking at this issue.”

“Obviously, Mullen said that it needs to be changed, or at least moved through, so I thought that was a very interesting statement by military command,” Begich said. “That’s what I’ll be looking to, to see what their policy would be and what they intend to do.”

Asked about his position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Begich said he’s waiting for the Senate hearings to finish and the Pentagon to complete its investigation.

“I think having the military step up to the plate and acknowledging that it’s a policy of the past and that they are now moving forward and recommending — or potentially looking at it is probably a good move,” Begich said. “But I’m leaving it to the military to help us guide us through.”

Also expressing support for the review was Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who said the law needs to be re-examined in light of the changes that have occurred since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was implemented in 1993.

“I support the review that the administration has underway in the Department of Defense,” she said. “I think ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ does need to be reconsidered in light of all the changes of the last 17 years, and I was impressed with the testimony from Adm. Mullen.”

Collins recalled that Mullen said during the hearing that other NATO countries that have lifted similar bans had encountered no problems related to combat readiness or unit cohesion.

“That was useful information to get on the record, and we’ll see where we go from here,” Collins said.

Asked whether she would support legislation at this time that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Collins said, “That’s not what is before us.”

“Right now, what’s before us now is to authorize the department to do a study of what the issues would be of changing the policy, and I support that, and that’s what the president has proposed, so we need to see,” she said. “I obviously think that the review is needed and that the policy needs to be reconsidered.”

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Mullen and Gates “came forward with a very reasoned approach” to the ban on open service.

“They were careful in terms of how they laid it out and I think it’s absolutely the right way to go,” Webb said.

Asked whether he was ready to support repeal, Webb said, “I think everybody needs to let the process work, which is the commitment that Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen made.”

Webb said he’s planning to be engaged in the updated analysis from the RAND Corp. on gays serving in the military, which Gates ordered as part of the Pentagon review. The senator added that, “it’s very important” as part of the review “to listen to the active duty military and to evaluate what they’re saying.”

While not expressing commitment for outright repeal, both Collins and Begich were more inclined to support a moratorium on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” if it came before them.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters following the hearing that he was considering a moratorium as legislative action on the issue this year, although he said he’s not ruling out any option.

Collins said she’d “have to see what specific recommendations the administration makes, the Pentagon makes,” but added, “putting on some sort of moratorium on cases where, for example, a third party reports — it might well make sense.”

Asked whether he would support a moratorium, Begich said, “I think, especially if they’re reviewing it, they should not take any negative actions against individuals until they review this policy and what they’re going to do and how to implement it.”

Webb reiterated his support for the Pentagon review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when asked if he would favor a moratorium at this time.

“My personal belief is that people over here [in Congress] need to take the lead of the Department of Defense on this,” Webb said. “They’ve been very careful in terms of laying the way they should be analyzing it.”

One senator who wouldn’t offer his thoughts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when questioned by DC Agenda was Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.).

Asked whether he could answer questions on the issue, Nelson declined and said he had to make it to another engagement, adding, “I don’t have anything to say on it anyway; we haven’t had our hearings.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • Imagine the military leadership asking Aunt Alice something like this: “Ma’am, how do you feel, knowing that your son or daughter may be showering naked next to a known homosexer (i.e. pervert)? Is that ok with you? Are you scared?? Huh?? Are you??”

    If the Pentagon does indeed ask servicemen and women AND THEIR FAMILIES about “their feelings” regarding overturning DADT – as they’ve said they would – then this “Review” has the potential to become as hurtful and as biased and as harmful as any Prop 8 style campaign. With a similar outcome. No civil rights should ever be put up for a vote.

  • This really doesn’t sound good, judging from what these clowns are saying. It looks like the Dems and the supportive Republicans are moving towards waiting a year before doing anything. This is bad because the Dems will most likely be fewer in number after the election, if they are still in power and the Republicans will most certainly kill the effort once they are in charge again. Its just more evidence that the Dems aren’t delivering on their promises to the LGBT Community and of course, the Republicans are always against us. The bottom line is, the Dems better repeal DADT this year, because it won’t happen otherwise, and if they don’t vote on it, along with ENDA and/or the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act this year, they can forget about getting any support, money or votes from me. If they throw us under the bus, I say we should return the favor and leave them hanging in 2010 & 2012 (wouldn’t want Obama to miss out on his share of the blame)!

  • What the fuck is there to review? It’s time for LEADERSHIP from the president — get off you ass and lead, like Truman and sign equality into law. How could someone who ran such a brilliant campaign be so inept politically as president? And why does the GLBT “leadership” stand behind him like cattle in support.

  • Reviewing and studying are politician-speak for “I don’t want to do anything, but I want it to look as though I were.”

  • If the democrats and President Obama don’t get the DADT repeal done as part of the Defense authorization bill in 2010, then DADT will probably not be repealed at all during Obama’s first term. The votes just won’t be there in the U.S. Senate after the November 2010 elections (well actually come January 2011 when the new Congress is sworn in).

    While this review isn’t a bad thing in theory because it will be the first time that the MILITARY is officially undertaking the study of this issue since instituting DADT 17 years ago, it might have been better if Obama and Gates had bothered to go before Congress and undertaken this task a year ago when Obama first came into office rather than just now coming forth publicly with the idea and saying it will now take one year to do the review. I know they had to deal with the whole issue with the Afghanistan surge last year, but this small review panel could have been discussed and set up at some point LAST YEAR (and the results being issued at the beginning of THIS YEAR), instead of just now being put together.

    That said, I also have trouble with the emphasis that Gates and Mullen want to place on the opinion of those heterosexual soliders, sailors, marines, and airmen and their families. For those of you who watched the whole Senate Committee Hearing, MO Senator McCaskill asked Mullin how he was going to get the opinions of gay and lesbian servicemembers incorporated into his survey of opinions of how to go about repealing DADT. Mullin apparently didn’t have much of an answer because he stammered before he said that he didn’t know given that DADT prevents gay and lesbian servicemembers from identifying themselves and voicing their needs/opinions.

    Now I’ve never been in the military, but I’ve had the impression that military members and their families are pretty good at adjusting to what the military leaders give them (orders/benefits/rules/etc.). I’ve had the impression that military members and their families don’t get much of a say as to their benefits and to their needs and desires. So, I’m pretty sure that if the military leadership told them that this is how it’s going to be after we repeal DADT, then the military servicemembers and their families would do a pretty good job of adjusting to life after the repeal of DADT. But that’s just my impression of the professionalism and good order of military way of life.

  • Sen Susn Collins was interested to learn that in some NATO gays serve openly. I bet she’d be more interested to learn that they serve openly in all but two countries;nthe USA and Turkey.

  • In truly civilized countries with real leaders who understand leadership, these laws are done away with very quickly. No long, drawn out studies. When the US finds a leader we will rid our laws of this type of disgusting discrimination. This country and this president should be ashamed.

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