The White House has endorsed an approach to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” whereby legislation Congress passes to repeal the law would not become effective until after the Pentagon completes its study on the issue.
In a letter Monday, Director of the Office of Management & Budget Peter Orzag writes that an amendment proposed by supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal adheres to the Pentagon’s request to finish its study on the issue at the end of the year and therefore is supported by the Obama administration.
Orzag says that the Pentagon review would be “ideally” completed before Congress takes action on the issue, but notes the administration “understands that Congress has chosen to move forward with the legislation now and seeks the administration’s views on the proposed amendment.”
“Accordingly, the administration is of the view that the proposed amendment meets the concerns raised by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Orzag says.
Orzag also says in the letter that he understands the amendment would ensure implementation of repeal is consistent with “standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention.”
Additionally, the amendment would “guarantee” the Pentagon has in place necessary policies and procedures to implement an end to the law. The measure would allow for the “critical need” to allow members of the U.S. armed forces to share their “concerns, insights and suggestions” about implementing the repeal process, according to the letter.
“The administration therefore supports the proposed amendment,” Orzag writes.
Notably, the proposed amendment lacks non-discrimination language and would return authority on discharging LGBT service members to the Pentagon.
The OMB letter came in response to another letter earlier in the day from repeal supporters in Congress — Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) — who asked the administration to support their proposed amendment.
The lawmakers’ letter says that they have created a proposal that “puts a process in place to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ once the working group has completed its review” and the president and Pentagon leaders “certify the repeal can be achieved consistent” with the standards of the military.
“We appreciate the input that you and the Pentagon have provided throughout this process and request the administration’s official views on our legislative proposal,” the lawmakers write.
In the House, supporters of repeal were anticipating Murphy to introduce an amendment to the floor this week that would attach repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.
Later this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to markup the legislation and expected to consider a similar amendment.
Supporters of repeal previously said they were a few votes shy of passing repeal out of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the OMB letter would move additional committee members to favor repeal, but the letter could serve to bolster these efforts.
Advocacy groups hailed the OMB letter for outlining an administration-backed path to passing repeal this year.
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said Monday the new support from the administration means people rallying against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are “on the brink of historic action to both strengthen our military and respect the service of lesbian and gay troops.”
“Today’s announcement paves the path to fulfill the president’s call to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ this year and puts us one step closer to removing this stain from the laws of our nation,” Solmonese said.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the agreement a “dramatic breakthrough.”
“The path forward crafted by the president, Department of Defense officials, and repeal leaders on Capitol Hill respects the ongoing work by the Pentagon on how to implement open service and allows for a vote this week,” Sarvis said.
While Sarvis said support from the administration would help ensure a winning vote, he said “we are not there yet” and “votes still need to be worked and counted.”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said Monday’s letter was “long awaited, much needed, and immensely helpful.”
“We have been making the case to White House staff for more than a year now that delayed implementation is realistic, politically viable, and the only way to get the defense community on board with repeal, and we are glad to see the community and now the administration and defense leadership finally rally around this option,” he said.
The endorsement from the administration prompted at least one social conservative group to take action. On Tuesday, the Family Research Council planned to hold a conference call with media to “release new national polling on homosexuals in the military” and discuss a new ad campaign “to protect the military.”
An announcement from Family Research Council says Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, would also discuss “grassroots outreach in the lead up to this week’s expected debate and votes in Congress.”