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.”