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.”