December 20, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Obama to sign ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal Wednesday

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered limited details on Monday for implementing "Don't Ask" repeal (Blade photo by Michael Key).

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered limited details on Monday about the implementation process for repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as he announced President Obama would sign the repeal measure into law on Wednesday.

“My sense, without having a specific time at this point, is that … the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will be signed by the president likely on Wednesday morning,” Gibbs said during a news conference.

But “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” won’t be off the books immediately after Obama’s signature. A provision in the measure requires that the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for repeal before open service is implemented.

Asked by the Washington Blade how long he anticipates before certification takes place, Gibbs didn’t offer a timeline, but said an implementation process will soon be underway. He said the recent Pentagon study predicts that implementing repeal “won’t be overly burdensome.”

“Again, I think that is part of what groups of people are going to working on,” Gibbs said. “But I would say this, we learned that — because of the attitudinal studies that the Pentagon conducted — we know that the vast majority of those serving in our military don’t believe this in any way will be disruptive. I think that points to an implementation process that won’t be overly burdensome.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wouldn’t certify “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal until training is instituted in the armed forces to handle open service and until he felt the military service chiefs were comfortable in moving forward. During testimony before the Senate, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said that repeal shouldn’t be implemented until 2012.

Additionally, after the president and Pentagon leaders certify, repeal still won’t take place until an additional 60-day waiting period has passed.

At the news conference, Gibbs maintained Obama administration attorneys are working on legal issues related to repeal as well as the path toward implementing open service in the U.S. military.

“There are a series of implementation and legal issues that lawyers in this building as well in the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice are working through — and, obviously, working though a longer and larger implementation policy process once the president signs the repeal into law,” Gibbs said.

Looking ahead to this implementation period, a number of lawmakers and LGBT groups — most recently the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network — have been calling on Obama and Gates to issue some kind of executive order to stop the discharges of gay service members before repeal takes effect.

Asked by the Blade whether the administration would be open to such an order during this interim period, Gibbs referred to the implementation process that he said is underway.

“Again, I said earlier in this session, there are a host of implementation and legal issues that are being studied throughout the government,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs restated the administration’s work on implementing the law when asked by the Blade what he would say to a service member who is discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” between the time Congress has acted to repeal the law and the time that repeal takes effect.

“I would say to that person right now that there are a host of lawyers looking at all of these legal issues,” he said. “But I would also say to that person that the president will ask him to — the president will sign into the law the repeal of that policy on Wednesday.”

Gibbs referred to the implementation process again when National Public Radio asked how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would impact members of the military with same-sex spouses.

“Again, I think there a series of implementation issues that we’ll tackle as a result of this,” Gibbs said.

The signing of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation on Wednesday would be Obama’s first appearance before a TV camera speaking about repeal since the Senate voted to end the law.

Gibbs said Obama didn’t make a public appearance immediately after the vote because he was busy building support for the START treaty, a nuclear arms reduction agreement.

“I think he was busy probably in the  Oval Office working on calls on START,” Gibbs said.

Speculation is also emerging over whether the win over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would lead to greater gains for the LGBT community and possibly Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage.

Obama opposes same-sex marriage, but during an interview with bloggers in October, he suggested that viewpoint could change. Asked by Americablog’s Joe Sudbay at the time about his position, Obama said “attitudes evolve, including mine.”

During the news conference on Monday, when asked whether “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would be “laying the groundwork” for the president’s support for same-sex marriage, Gibbs referred to earlier comments he made in October and called repeal of the military a “significant accomplishment.”

“I think the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a significant accomplishment for many that have sought for more than a decade to repeal a policy that they, like the president, believed was unjust,” Gibbs said.

Pressed on whether the president thinks the vote for repeal means the country is more ready for same-sex marriage, Gibbs said he hasn’t talked to Obama about the issue and noted the broad public support for ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

A Washington Post/ABC News poll published last week found 77 percent of Americans support allowing openly gay people to serve in the armed forces. Support for same-sex marriage is not as strong, although some polls are beginning to find majority support for gay nuptials.

“I have not talked to him about how the vote on Saturday impacts that,” Gibbs said. “I think, clearly, if you look at the issue of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ there is clearly a shift in voter attitude. There was broad bipartisan support and public support for the repeal of a policy that didn’t make any sense, and on Wednesday, will no longer be the law.”

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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