Amid fears that momentum on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is slipping, advocates are pressuring the Human Rights Campaign to demand that President Obama publicly call for repeal this year.
A group of bloggers — led by John Aravosis of Americablog — are asking readers to flood HRC’s phone lines and e-mail inboxes with messages that Obama needs to publicly specify he wants Congress to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year and take the lead in working with lawmakers to ensure repeal happens.
Other bloggers who’ve joined the effort are Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend, Andy Towle of Towleroad.com and gay activist David Mixner.
The bloggers say on their web sites they’re targeting HRC because it’s the most prominent and best-funded LGBT rights organization and it has the greatest access to the White House.
During his State of the Union address late month, Obama pledged to work this year with Congress and military leaders to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but didn’t specify a time for when he wanted repeal to happen. Efforts for repeal got a boost shortly thereafter when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen endorsed open service in testimony before Congress.
But in the short time since then, it’s become less clear whether Congress could achieve repeal this year. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she wasn’t sure whether the House would pass repeal legislation, and moderate members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed support for the Pentagon’s review of the law without backing outright repeal.
The Politico recently reported that while supporters of repeal in Congress were excited about Obama’s State of the Union announcement, the White House hasn’t followed up with guidance on the issue.
Aravosis said he hopes the blogger initiative will restore momentum for repeal and prompt HRC to “stand up to the president and call him on the fact that he’s not doing enough.”
HRC issued an organizational response to the initiative, saying its goals are the same that have been outlined by the bloggers, which include pushing for full repeal this year.
“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has to be repealed this year,” says the statement. “That has been the Human Rights Campaign’s position from the start, and at this point there is no one in the White House who does not know it. We and the community to whom we are accountable agree: this is the year.”
HRC says it supports including repeal as part of the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill while at the same time supporting the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, standalone legislation that would end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and replace it with a non-discrimination policy.
Obama has committed to repeal, HRC says, but has also made clear that votes in Congress are needed before an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” can happen.
“We have been lobbying the White House relentlessly and we’ve seen more movement in recent weeks than in the previous 16 years,” HRC says. “Our nation’s top defense officials testified, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ should be repealed. That did not happen in a vacuum. These events are just the start. There is a clear path to repeal, and that’s the one we’re on.”
But Aravosis said HRC’s statement is “actually a little dangerous” and the idea that HRC has “conveyed the message and, ‘We’ve had hearings so everything is on track,’ is absurd.”
“No one in town agrees with them,” he said. “The Hill is telling us that the White House is not telling them what to do, and that’s why they’re not moving ahead — because they don’t know what to do about whether they should or shouldn’t repeal this year.”
Aravosis said the HRC statement also isn’t sufficient because it suggests that the organization has done enough and the White House understands the issue.
“This means either HRC is powerless, or they’re not trying hard enough, and that’s what’s scaring me right now,” he said. “They’re suggesting they’ve done all they can, which suggests that HRC’s influence in the White House doesn’t amount to much, and that’s scary for all of us.”
The White House declined to comment.
Following this article’s publication, HRC spokesperson Trevor Thomas made the following statement to DC Agenda:
“Pointing out that support for repeal from the Republican Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is an incredibly important step forward is not to suggest that ‘everything is on track.’ To say that there is a clear path forward is not to suggest that path doesn’t have obstacles or that it won’t require a lot of concerted effort. We continue to press the White House in the ways that we believe are most effective and encourage others to continue pressuring the White House and Congress themselves. For every LGBT American and every ally, now is the time to contact their Representative and their two Senators and insist that ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] be repealed this year. That is what HRC is doing and that is what we are asking everyone to do.”