January 14, 2011 at 6:00 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Rep. Hunter attempts to block ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

An opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House intends to introduce legislation that would effectively block implementation of an end to the military’s gay ban.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran and two-term House member, plans to introduce legislation that would expand the certification requirement for enacting “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Under current law, which President Obama signed on Dec. 22, repeal would take effect 60 days after the president, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service.

Hunter’s proposed legislation would expand this certification responsibility to the military service chiefs: the chief of naval operations, the Marine Corps commandant, the Army chief of staff and the Air Force chief of staff.

Joe Kasper, a Hunter spokesperson, said the expansion of certification is important because the service chiefs have an intimate knowledge of the military.

“It’s necessary that the service chiefs, who understand more than anyone else the unique challenges within their respective branches, are part of this process,” Kasper said.

Passage of the legislation would likely block repeal from happening because many service chiefs have testifed before Congress that they oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time.

Most prominent among them is Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, who in December told reporters that an end to the military’s gay ban would cause a distraction that could “cost Marines’ lives.”

Hunter has been among the most vocal opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the U.S. House. In December, he vehemently spoke out against ending the military’s gay ban as the chamber debated a repeal measure.

“It sounds good to make that comparison, that this is like the civil rights movement,” Hunter said. “The problem is the United States military is not the YMCA . It’s something special. And the reason that we have the greatest military in the world is because of the way that it is right now.”

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in December, some service chiefs — including Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey — testified that they didn’t feel the need to have the responsibility of issuing certification for repeal because Defense Secretary Robert Gates would adequately represent their voice going forward.

“I am very comfortable with my ability to provide input to Secretary Gates and to the Chairman that will be listened to and considered,” Casey said. “So you could put it in there, but I don’t think it’s necessary.”

Casey added that he thinks an expansion of the certification requirement would undercut the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986, which set up the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as the principal military adviser to the president.

Kasper said the legislation is currently in draft form and Hunter hasn’t yet made final plans on when it would be introduced.

The Hill newspaper, which first reported the news, quoted a congressional aide as saying the bill could be introduced as soon as Tuesday and that 15 to 20 Republicans have already signed on in support.

Whether House Republican leadership would bring the legislation up to a vote on the floor is unknown. A spokesperson for U.S. House John Boehner (R-Ohio) didn’t respond on short notice to a request to comment.

In the Senate, where Democrats have retained control, it’s unlikely the legislation would come up for a floor vote as a standalone bill. Still, the situation could be different if the House passed the measure as part of a larger moving vehicle — such as an upcoming defense authorization bill.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said the announced plans to introduce the legislation aren’t surprising, but are disappointing.

“Let there be no doubt this is an attempted [plan] to placate a vocal minority and stir up discord before certification happens,” he said. “Mr. Hunter’s intent is to derail [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] repeal if he possibly can.”

Sarvis said he doesn’t think the majority of members of the House want to disrupt repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” at this stage, and he knows that isn’t the view of a majority of members of the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“Congress, the most senior leadership in the Pentagon, and the American people have spoken on this issue,” Sarvis said. “Mr. Hunter, like a few of his colleagues, is stuck in another era.”

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

  • Hunter’s father wasn’t in Congress when Truman integrated the service, but I’m sure he would have made the same brain dead argument he is making. I would have to ask Hunter if he is thinking that unreasonable heterosexuals will be killing gay troops if those troops are honest about their orientation.

  • That’s one way to have those reluctant service chiefs lose their jobs. Hunter…what a goof!

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