February 25, 2010 at 6:31 pm EST | by Chris Johnson
Levin doubts votes for ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal
Sen. Carl Levin (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Carl Levin (DC Agenda photo by Michael Key)

A key senator who opposes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is doubtful that sufficient support exists to repeal the law this year as he continues to push for a legislative moratorium on discharges.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters following a hearing Thursday he’d favor legislation to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year, but said there “will be great difficulty in succeeding in repeal.”

“I’m in favor of repeal, but I don’t favor going to a vote if it’s going to be a setback for those of us who think the program should be repealed,” he said. “I can take a whip check, but I think there’s a real problem … getting repeal approved.”

Fearing a lack of votes, Levin said he’s pushing for a legislative moratorium. The senator noted that such a measure would be “logical” because it doesn’t predetermine the outcome of the Pentagon study currently underway.

“Once the commander-in-chief says people shouldn’t be discharged for simply being gay, I think there’s real dilemma,” he said. “And when we think about that dilemma … hopefully, we’ll lead people to see that the moratorium is an attractive position because it doesn’t prejudge the outcome.”

Levin said he wants a legal opinion of the validity of a moratorium as well as what will happen with pending discharges as the Pentagon completes its review.

Asked whether the White House has been pushing for a moratorium as a way to address “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this year, Levin replied, “Not to me. They may have in some other place.”

But groups opposing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are reluctant to embrace a moratorium and say there’s still an opportunity this year for repealing the law outright. In an organizational statement sent by spokesperson Trevor Thomas, the Human Rights Campaign emphasized the possibility of repeal this year.

“We believe the votes to repeal this failed law can be found and everyone who wants to see ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ end needs to strenuously lobby their elected leaders,” says the statement.

Kevin Nix, spokesperson for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, was similarly bullish in a statement on passing full repeal this year.

“It’s too early to be talking about … half measures like a moratorium,” he said. “We’re focused squarely on getting full, permanent repeal of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’] in the defense authorization bill.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he would support any measure that “had a realistic chance” of alleviating the burden on gay service members, but noted that he was unconvinced a moratorium would be a politically easier vote than outright repeal.

“We’ve heard from some offices on the Hill that they don’t see a practical difference between the two,” he said. “So if there’s going to be a vote on anything this year, we would like it to be on full repeal.”

Nicholson said he would much prefer a push for a vote on full repeal “with modifications” rather than “settle for an equally tough vote on a temporary moratorium.”

During the hearing Thursday, lawmakers pressed Navy and Marine Corps leaders on their views on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

When Levin asked witnesses whether they support repeal of the 1993 law at this time, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said he favors repeal but also supports the study advanced earlier this month by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“Since ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a law, whatever happens resides in Congress,” he said. “I support the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I think the president has come up with a very practical and workable way to do that.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway reiterated their support for the Pentagon’s review as they had done in congressional testimony Wednesday.

But Conway said he wouldn’t want any change to undermine military readiness, and noted that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is working. He advised against any change at this time.

“At this point, I think the current policy works,” he said. “My best military advice to this committee, to the secretary, to the president, would be to keep the law such as it is.”

In a statement, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis rebuked Conway for his remarks, saying the commandant was having his position both ways by supporting a study geared toward ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and opposing repeal at this time.

“General Conway was the only chief to say to Congress this week that the law is ‘working,’” Sarvis said. “It is not working. Having a law on the books that fires talented troops, at a time of two wars when all manpower is needed, is not effective and does not enhance the performance and readiness of the force.”

During the hearing, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who’s slated next week to introduce Senate repeal legislation, said he agreed with Conway that overturning “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be “held up to the standard of the military readiness.”

“I’m supportive of the end to ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” he said. “I believe it’s the fair and right thing to do, but in the end … this has to pass the test of military readiness.”

Lieberman said he believes repeal will pass this test based on what’s happened in other countries that have lifted their bans on open service.

“I hope that we will conclude repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ will enhance military readiness, but that’s yet to be determined as the study goes on,” he said.

The issue of what the United States can learn from foreign militaries in implementing repeal also emerged during the hearing. Roughead said the working group was necessary to examine the impact on repeal on the U.S. Navy. He said other studies on the effect of repeal on other navies that have lifted bans on open service don’t address the consequences of repeal in the United States.

“While I have high regard for those other forces, they are not us, they do not come from our culture, they do not come from the beliefs that young men and bring into the service,” he said.

Nathaniel Frank, author of “Unfriendly Fire” and research fellow at the Palm Center, has emphasized in arguments in favor of repeal how other countries have lifted bans on open service. Responding to Roughead, Frank said the United States can learn from these countries on this open service as it has on other issues.

“There’s no question that each culture is different, each military is different,” he said. “But the U.S. military has repeatedly looked to other militaries to study issues, including this issue, as well as housing and health and personnel management.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • You are acting like this is NEWS?

    We NEVER had enough votes in the US Senate for ANYTHING LGBT-related. Obama said he would “work with Congress” for repeal of DADT knowing that it could not pass the Senate. Later this year he will lightly scold the Congress for not acting.

    Now, we’ll have a study of DADT until after the mid-terms. Then, it will look even worse.

    It’s all a game. A political game. A game we cannot win. We must find another way to win our full equality. THIS is a waste of our time, money, energy and hope. Enough is enough.

  • It’s so amazing that our sexually-repressed Victorian Heritage clings to life, to this day… Die! Die! Be free! …argh, it won’t die!!! Are there really that many people and senators who believe god will turn them into pillars of salt, once they defy Him, and the ban is lifted? I think there are!

    If only our elected public “servants” would act with such purpose and diligence about practical concerns: jobs. health care costs. Humvees. (ha). After all, nobody ever knows exactly what the economy is going to do when they move the exchange rate up and down, but they make the best policy they can make at the time, taking into account all the factors. But THIS issue of DADT does not warrant the time, cost and supposed anxiety (drama) that it’s commanding. Of course, I guess it is challenging everyone’s gender issues, sexuality issues and marriage/co-habitation issues. Well, like I said: the Victorian Age needs to DIE! DIE! DIE! BE GONE!

  • This country is truly a disgrace. The DADT policy is so anti-gay that it is hard to believe any gay or lesbian would serve under the circumstances. Today’s military recruits known gang members but finds it OK to shame young gays and lesbians. To hell with this country, it is not worth your possible death. Here you are less than. The military should be honest and ban us from serving. Truly disgusting what goes on here in the name of religion.

  • If it is indeed true that there are not enough votes in the Senate to repeal DADT this year then frankly, I think gay and lesbian folks should just stay out of the military (and get out of the military if you’re in it right now) and just let the straight folks suffer and sacrifice in it for the time being until these STRAIGHT politicians stop playing games with our glbt soldiers’ lives and finally repeal DADT once and for all. Just let the straight folks carry the burden entirely for any wars the USA engages in until the USA decides it wants to end this injustice (of DADT) against its gay citizens.

  • What a surprise. Now we are being told the Dems don’t have the votes to pass a repeal of DADT, and they don’t want to vote on it because it probably wouldn’t get enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster. Of course, the repeal has the support of at least two Republicans (Collins & Snowe) so its really about the Dems trying to cover for anti-gay Dems in the senate like Jim Webb of Virginia who supports the continuation of DADT. This reminds me of what the Dems said about ENDA, and how they didn’t want to call it up for a vote, because again they feared a Republican filibuster. Of course that is really a pile of crap because we once again have the support of at least two Republicans, (Collins & Snowe) so there isn’t any good excuse apart from the Dems not wanting to admit that the so-called “Blue Dogs” have too much sway within the Democratic Party. If they don’t pass the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act this year, my partner and I are done with the Dems. No more money, support or votes for the Dems until they keep their promises to our community.

  • Dear “friendly” politicians:

    Gosh, I’d love to help you get reelected, but I fear I don’t have the votes for it. Have a blessed day.

  • The only way DADT is working is to stigmatize and marginalize all gay people by saying the government officially believes gay people should be made to act straight, lie, and hide their most important relationships. It says, not only to new recruits, but to the entire world, gay people should be punished simply for being gay.
    The only purpose served by DADT is to perpetuate the prejudice it was intended to indulge.

  • I supported the campaigns of Webb and Obama with money and my vote because I thought that each of them would be better than the alternatives presented. I thought they would make changes in some of the laws that restrict my personal freedoms. DADT is not personally relevant to me since I’m not in the military, but I think its removal would eventually affect some attitudes so that gay people might be more respected. What is relevant to me is the fear that I or my partner could be dying in the hospital and we could be prevented from spending our last moments together by some ridculous hospital rule overseen by some religious extremist nurse who claims the right to pass judgement on my lifestyle. What is relevant to me is that in Virginia I have the right to leave all of my money to my cat, but because of the ridiculous constitutional amendment against gays, my partner may not be able to inherit from me. I understand this is not clear in the law, but should I trust our new attorney general to protect the disposition of my property according to my wishes?

    So far, I have seen no benefits from my campaign contributions or support of the democrats. I am seriously wondering whether to support the republicans (probably no benefit there) or just find a home in another state.

  • I don’t understand why this is even a Congressional issue. Correct me if I’m wrong but Eisenhower desegregated the US Military via Executive Order in light of strong dissent from both Congress and his most senior military staff. As Commander-in-Chief he was constitutionally able to do this. I fail to see why this is not the same situation. If Obama really wanted to repeal DADT he could in the same way Ike did with segregation. This appears to be more of a dog and pony show to achieve bipartisanship to gain political cover (despite that over 2/3 of Americans conservative and liberal alike favor it’s repeal). Someone needs to clue Obama in that bipartisanship in this environment is a joke and Obama needs to grow a pair. I’m almost embarrassed to call myself a Democrat…the party of wimps!

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