April 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
McKeon backs legislation to disrupt ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal

Rep. Buck McKeon (Blade file photo by Joey Diguglielmo)

The leading House Republican on defense issues last week announced support for legislation that would expand the certification requirement for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and potentially disrupt the process for ending the military’s gay ban.

During a taped interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” House Armed Services Committee Chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) backed a bill that would require the military service chiefs to certify that the U.S. military is ready for open service before bringing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to an end.

“I think it makes it a better process,” McKeon said. “I think the way this process was rammed through, it was done politically.”

In December, President Obama signed legislation allowing for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal 60 days after he, the defense secretary and the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for open service. The legislation backed by McKeon, sponsored Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), would expand this certification requirement to include the service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

In his “Newsmakers” appearance, McKeon reiterated that he believes legislative repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was hastily moved through the Democratic Congress last year.

“I’m not in the military,” McKeon added. “My job is to help protect the military and to see that they have what they need to carry out their missions and to return home safely. If there is something that is going to be a distraction to that, that might put them in a difficult situation, I don’t think we should be doing that. And I’m not sure we fully answered this question.”

With McKeon’s support, the legislation could be made part of the fiscal year 2012 defense authorization bill as part of the chairman’s mark for the legislation or a panel vote when the House Armed Services Committee considers the larger measure. Earlier this month, Hunter told the Washington Blade he’s spoken to McKeon’s staff about having a vote on his bill in committee and is expecting a vote during the markup for the FY2012 budget.

Asked during his “Newsmakers” appearance if he would consider inserting the measure into defense authorization legislation, McKeon reiterated he supported the measure.

But when pressed on whether he would be upset if certification happened before Hunter’s measure could pass the House, McKeon replied, “It’s not going to bother me at all. What I’m concerned about is the troops it may bother. I don’t have a problem with it, other than what it does to our readiness, what it does to our recruitment, what it does to our retention. I don’t think we have really answered those questions.”

Joe Kasper, a Hunter spokesperson, expressed confidence about having support in the House Armed Services Committee for certification expansion, but said questions remain on whether to have a panel vote on the measure or a vote on the House floor.

“There is definitely support within the committee for ensuring the service chiefs are a bigger part of the process, exactly what the Congressman’s bill does,” Kasper said. “The next few months are important to determining the best way to offer the measure, whether it’s through the Committee or an open floor process.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, lambasted McKeon for throwing his support behind a measure that could disrupt “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“In supporting this turn-the-clock-back move, Congressman McKeon fundamentally disrespects the service chiefs,” Sarvis said. “The chiefs have repeatedly proven themselves to be strong and effective leaders. Indeed, because of their leadership, our military remains the strongest in the world. To assert that the chiefs can’t or won’t stand up for themselves if they have concerns — and to continue to go against their best professional advice to Congress — is a transparent political game.”

Some military service chiefs have said they oppose expanding the certification requirement to include their input and said they feel they have sufficient opportunity to express concerns on the transition to open service with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.

In congressional testimony earlier this month, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead said the Navy opposes expanding the certification requirement beyond what was put in place by the legislation Obama signed last year.

“I am confident my assessment of Navy’s readiness for repeal will be carefully considered during the certification process, and do not believe it is necessary to provide additional or separate input outside of this process,” Roughead said.

Late last year during a hearing before the Senate, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said he didn’t think expanded certification was necessary when Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) asked about the measure.

“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.”

A Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the certification expansion bill could pass the lower chamber of Congress, but expressed skepticism about the measure reaching the president’s desk.

“The House Republicans’ continued assault on equality and national security may succeed in the House,” the aide said. “But their extreme social agenda has less chance of passing the Senate than John Boehner has of not crying during Hallmark commercials.”

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

  • The President needs to get this process done now and certified before there can be any more interruptions. It needs to be finished before Gates retires and before the Democrats potentially lose the Senate. The time is NOW!!!

  • Just another so called leader in Congress who invents concerns were none is shown to be. The Congressman obviously is bigoted and gaming the situation!

  • My unit is almost done with the training, hopefully soon we will be fully trained and we will have done our part! =)

  • “I think the way this process was rammed through, it was done politically.”

    Of course it was done politically, you imbecile. What part of “civilian control of the military” don’t you understand?

  • Buck McKeon has been a relentless opponent of repealing DADT since it was first proposed. His “concern for military readiness” is nothing more than a smokescreen for his deep-seated homophobia. Isn’t it time to address the real problems facing the country and to stop re-fighting social values battles of 2010?
    I’m embarrassed that this man represents my state in Congress.

  • Not likely that he would read this but a letter to his office my be appropriate.

    Hey, Buck.

    Since you’re NOT in the military, you don’t know how well the training is being received with very little issues. Protect the military by expediting the certification process rather than slowing it or stopping it. Trying to block certification is a distraction to the process. It is politicians like you that are bringing uncertainty to the process that is already underway. Political prolonging is what makes it a difficult situation.

    The troops WILL be bothered if you upset the certification. Readiness is affected because you’re keeping the troops in a holding pattern without direction. First they were told the repeal would happen quickly. Now you’re telling you are trying to slow it down. Recruitment is affected because you are giving those candidates, which thought they were joining a professional organization, the impression that the military can’t make up their mind.

    P.S. Congressman, shouldn’t you be worried about the Budget instead?

  • Like expanding the certification process is not yet another politically motiviated and lame attempt to delay the end of the ban and fully open integration of openly gay servicemembes. I’m so sick of the endless games! Even McCain isn’t spewing the bullshit anymore! Shut up already and do something useful!

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