November 18, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Sen. Ensign to support ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal: source (UPDATED)

UPDATE: In a statement, Jennifer Cooper, an Ensign spokesperson, said the senator is awaiting the upcoming Pentagon working group report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and testimony from military service chiefs before making a decision on the issue. Additionally, she said Ensign intends to examine “all the merits” of the defense authorization bill before committing to a vote one way or another and is hoping for a “fully open amendment process.”

The complete statement follows:

“Senator Ensign is waiting on the report from the Pentagon and the testimony of the military chiefs to see if any changes to this policy can or should be done in a way so as not to harm the readiness or war fighting capabilities of our troops. Also, he plans to review all of the merits of the Defense Authorization bill before voting one way or another; hopefully it will be a fully open amendment process.”

Additionally, the Blade obtained a copy of Ensign’s constituent letter on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Notably, the letter states that the senator believes that Americans “regardless of the sexual orientation” should be able to “fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation.”

Still, the letter states that “major changes to personnel structure” during a time of war “could be a major distraction” to the troops’ ability to complete their mission.

The complete letter follows:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I value the opinions of every Nevadan and am always grateful to those who take the time to inform me of their views.

As you may be aware, during the Clinton Administration, Congress enacted new laws and regulations regarding homosexuals and service in the U.S. military. This compromise, commonly known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” holds that service members are not to be asked about nor allowed to discuss their sexual orientation. The law also states that any uniformed individual is subject to discharge for engaging in, attempting to engage in, or soliciting prohibited conduct.

It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation. As a nation currently engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus of all decisions affecting military readiness, recruiting and retention, and unit cohesion should be to maximize the success of ongoing operations. Major changes to personnel structure while forces are undergoing intense training and being deployed to combat operations could be a major distraction and could degrade our troops’ ability to successfully complete the mission.

On February 2, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for a Department of Defense review of the policy. That review is expected to be completed in December of this year. I believe completing that review is necessary before further action is taken so that the concerns of our service members can be fully understood and addressed. All four of the military service chiefs have requested that the results of the review be in hand before legislative action is taken. As you may know, a federal judge in California recently attempted to supersede this process and ruled in court that the military must stop enforcing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Department of Justice has stated that it will appeal this ruling. I strongly oppose over-reaching by activist judges and believe that, once the DoD review is complete, the future of the military policy must be carefully considered by the Congress.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2011 contains a provision repealing the policy and was recently submitted for consideration by the Senate. The NDAA is traditionally a piece of legislation to which defense-related amendments can be offered, and each provision is extensively debated and considered. Had the NDAA come to the floor, the Senate then would have been able to debate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Unfortunately, Democrats attempted to use this year’s NDAA as a vehicle for non-defense-related provisions and refused to allow an open and fair bipartisan amendment process. As a result, I voted against consideration of the bill and it did not come to the Senate floor. The NDAA can still be brought to the floor during the lame duck session this year, but Democrats have announced their top three priorities for legislation after the elections and national defense did not make the list.

As a former member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and Ranking Member of its Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, I assure you that I have the utmost respect for those men and women of our nation who choose to serve in the Armed Forces. I believe it is important to weigh competence, courage, and willingness to serve above all for those enlisting in the military. Please rest assured that I will keep your concerns, and the concerns of all Nevadans, in mind. Thank you, again, for sharing your thoughts with me. Please feel free to contact me in the future on matters of importance to you. Should you have any other questions or comments, please do not hesitate to either write or e-mail me via my website at http://ensign.senate.gov.

—————–

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) wants to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intends to vote in favor of moving forward with defense budget legislation containing a provision that would end the law, according to the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada.

Laura Martin, communications director for the club, said she and other activists on Thursday met with Margot Allen, Ensign’s regional representative on military issues, who informed the group of Ensign’s opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intention to vote for the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.

“The first question was about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his staffer said he supports repeal,” Martin said. “We asked her to clarify three times and she said he will vote in the affirmative on the defense authorization with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in it.”

Martin said the question they asked was based on the condition that the vote would come up in December after the Pentagon working group completes its report on implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We said after Dec. 1, when that report is out, and the defense authorization act is up for a vote with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ will the senator vote in the affirmative to pass it?” Martin said. “And she said, ‘He will.’ And we asked her to clarify that two more times and she said, ‘Yes, he wants it repealed.’”

Calls to Ensign’s office weren’t returned on short notice.

Ensign voted against the cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the defense authorization bill in September. During the summer, the Nevada senator told the Washington Blade in a brief exchange on Capitol Hill that he has “concern” about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” However, Ensign said this concern was based on Congress acting before the Pentagon working group report was complete.

“The problem is you can’t go out and say to the military chiefs, ‘We’re going to survey you and see what you all think,’ and then you pass the bill to repeal it,” Ensign said at the time. “So the study should come first and then you can talk about the repeal or not of ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell']. So, yes, it is a concern simply because the study’s not done.”

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

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