U.S. Sen John McCain (R-Ariz) on Sunday said congressional hearings are necessary on an upcoming Pentagon report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before Congress moves forward to lift the military’s gay ban.
The Arizona senator also blasted the study — which reportedly will be favorable to open service — for focusing on how to implement an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as opposed to the impact repeal will have on battle effectiveness.
During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McCain said he doesn’t think lawmakers should repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before adjourning for the year and maintained hearings should come first.
Asked by host David Gregory whether it’s fair to stay to ban won’t be lifted in lame duck, McCain replied, “I don’t think it should be because I think once the study comes out in the beginning of December, we should at least have a chance to review it and maybe have hearings on it.”
With the 2010 election bringing a Republican takeover of the U.S. House and a reduced Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, waiting for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until next year is expected to make the task significantly more difficult — if not unattainable.
The Arizona senator reiterated that the scope of the Pentagon working group — developing a plan to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — isn’t what’s necessary to examine the issue properly.
“I wanted a study to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale,” McCain said. “What this study is designed to do is to find out how the repeal could be implemented. Those are two very different aspects of this issue.”
McCain emphasized that the four military service chiefs have expressed reservations about lifting the military’s gay ban before a comprehensive study is complete. Last week, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos said now isn’t the time for Congress to enact repeal.
“I respect and admire these four service chiefs who have expressed either outright opposition or deep reservation about the repeal,” McCain said. “They’re the ones who are in charge.”
During a recent trip to Afghanistan, McCain said an Army master sergeant expressed concerns to him about lifting the military’s gay ban.
“I was in an outpost in Kandahar,” McCain said. “An Army master sergeant — 19 years in, fifth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan — says to me, ‘Sen. McCain we live eat, sleep and fight together in close proximity. I’m concerned about the repeal. I’d like to know more about it.’ That’s the view that I’ve got from chief petty officers and sergeants all over Afghanistan.”
Media reports have said the Pentagon report will reveal that more than 70 percent of U.S. service members don’t care if gays serve openly in the armed forces, but McCain dismissed this reporting.
“I have not seen that study, and this study was directed at how to implement the repeal, not whether the repeal should take place or not,” McCain said.
In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, lambasted McCain for the senator’s positions “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Pentagon study.
“Obviously the senator doesn’t like the preliminary findings of the Pentagon’s [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] survey, which found a clear majority of U.S. service members are okay serving with their gay and lesbian comrades,” Solmonese said. “The senator has known all along the study developed by the Pentagon Working Group was looking at how to repeal [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] — not whether to do so.”
Solmonese noted that McCain previously said he wanted to hear from military leadership on the issue, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen said he favors open service.
Then the senator said he wanted to hear from rank-and-file troops, and, according to media reports on the Pentagon report, they say they’re OK with gays serving openly as well.
“The truth is McCain is increasingly alone in his irrational opposition to open service,” Solmonese said. “Sixty-four percent of Republicans disagree with McCain and favor lifting the ban. No matter the evidence, McCain will use whatever tactics at his disposal to not only stop repeal from moving forward, but will hold hostage the most critical military defense bill to do so.”
Also during McCain’s “Meet the Press” appearance, the positions on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” among members of the senator’s own family also came up.
Last week, Cindy McCain, the senator’s wife, appeared in a NOH8 campaign ad and denounced how current laws mean gays “can’t serve our country openly.” In a later Twitter posting, she clarified she supports the NOH8 campaign but also stands by her husband’s position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
In response, McCain maintained his position that a study on the effects of repeal on battle effectiveness and repeal is necessary before moving forward.
“By the way, I respect the First Amendment rights of every member of my family,” McCain added.
Watch a video of McCain’s remarks here:
The transcript of the exchange between Gregory and McCain follows:
Gregory: Are you going to stand in the way — you personally — in the way of this ban being lifted?
McCain: I will stand that I want a thorough and complete study of the effect on morale and battle effectiveness of the United States military. I will listen — as I’ve said for years — to our military leaders and not a study that is leaked as we know…
Gregory: …that said seven in ten members of the military think it would be just fine to have it lifted.
McCain: I have not seen that study, and this study was directed at how to implement the repeal, not whether the repeal should take place or not.
But very importantly, we have people like the commandant of the Marine Corps, the three other — all four service chiefs are saying we need a thorough and complete study of the effects — not how to implement a repeal — but the effects on morale and battle effectiveness. That’s what I want, and once we get this study, we need to have hearings and we need to examine it, and we need to look at whether it’s the kind of study that we wanted.
It isn’t in my view because I wanted a study to determine the effects of the repeal on battle effectiveness and morale. What this study is designed to do is to find out how the repeal could be implemented. Those are two very different aspects of this issue.
Gregory: In a lot of households, this is a subject of debate, including your own apparently. Your wife, Cindy McCain, has put up an ad, a public service announcement with NOH8, a group that promotes lesbian, gay and transgender rights, and this is portion of it.
[Plays clip with Cindy McCain saying gays “can’t serve our country openly.”]
Gregory: …referring to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” She did clarify this on her Twitter page. You’re both so active on Twitter. She said this. She said, “I fully support the NOH8 campaign and all it stands for and am proud to be part of it. But I stand by my husband’s stance on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
McCain: …which is, a complete and thorough study and review of the effect on battle readiness and morale, and by the way, I respect the First Amendment rights of every member of my family.
Gregory: But, you know, what’s interesting about this, I mean, a debate in family, is there is kind of — you talk about waiting for the study — there is an appeal to honor, I mean, to your honor. You have the chairman of the Joint Chiefs saying, ‘Look, it’s just not right to have people lying about who they are just to be able to protect fellow citizens.”
McCain: You have the commandant of the Marine Corps who says — whose people he’s directly responsible for — is saying this could hurt our ability to win.
Gregory: Do you believe that?
McCain: I’m paying attention to the commandant of the Marine Corps. I’m paying attention to the chief of staff of the Air Force.
Gregory: You’re so close to the military, senator. You know these people. You know the issue. Do you have a sense of it in your gut about what should happen?
McCain: I have a sense that I respect and admire these four service chiefs who have expressed either outright opposition or deep reservation about the repeal. They’re the ones who are in charge. Now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I agree, the president and the secretary of defense, have all come out for repeal.
But I really would — I was in an outpost in Kandahar. An Army master sergeant — 19 years in, fifth deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan — says to me, “Sen. McCain we live eat, sleep and fight together in close proximity. I’m concerned about the repeal. I’d like to know more about it.”
That’s the view that I’ve got from chief petty officers and sergeants all over Afghanistan.
Gregory: The ban’s not going to be lifted in the lame duck session. Is that fair to say?
McCain: I think that we should at least — I don’t think it should be because I think once the study comes out in the beginning of December, we should at least have a chance to review it and maybe have hearings on it.