November 13, 2010 at 9:51 am EST | by Chris Johnson
Pentagon study leaks are aiding repeal effort

Capitol Hill observers say recently leaked details about the upcoming Pentagon study on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are having a positive influence on the effort to repeal the military’s gay ban.

Meanwhile, some repeal advocates anticipate that congressional hearings will be held on the study before action on repeal is wrapped up.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said “it’s undeniable” that the leaked findings were “extremely helpful” to repeal advocates.

“Whether or not it’ll take us across the tipping point, I don’t know,” he added. “That’s anybody’s guess. It’s undeniable that it moves us more in that direction, but people disagree on where that tipping point is.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said media reports on the Pentagon working group study are still too recent to properly assess their impact on convincing Republicans to vote in favor of repeal. Still, he said he’s confident the findings will “bring in additional votes.”

“It’s certainly a bolster to the case we’ve been making with Republican lawmakers and their staff that the study is beneficial, it’s very thorough and the terms that Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out are very clear,” Cooper said.

Repeal advocates said they hope the leaks, which were published in the Washington Post, will bolsters efforts in the Senate to pass the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains language to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A previous vote to move forward with the legislation in September didn’t meet the 60-vote threshold to make it to the Senate floor.

On Wednesday evening, the Washington Post reported that the results of a survey sent to 400,000 U.S. service members over the summer as part of the Pentagon working group’s efforts will reveal that more than 70 percent of respondents think the effect of ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would be positive, mixed or nonexistent. A similar report was published Thursday in The New York Times.

These survey results reportedly led study authors to conclude that objections to gays serving openly in the U.S. military would drop after the implementation of open service. The deadline for completing the study and delivering it to Defense Secretary Robert Gates is Dec. 1.

According to the Washington Post, the working group report is about 370 pages long and is divided into two sections. The first section examines whether ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will harm unit readiness or morale. The second part offers a plan for ending enforcement of the law. This second section is not meant to serve as the military’s official instruction manual on the issue, but could be used as such if military leaders agreed.

A Democratic aide, who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity, said reporting on the Pentagon working group study is infusing pro-repeal efforts “with a newfound energy.”

“Some pro-repeal senators are already touting the findings in discussions with their colleagues, in hopes of galvanizing sufficient support for repeal,” the aide said. “The repeal effort was being hampered by the lack of a completed Pentagon study, but with the study complete — and showing that repeal can be implemented — the anti-repeal effort suddenly seems disingenuous.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called on the Pentagon to make the working group report public.

“With the Senate soon turning its attention again to military policy, the results of the Pentagon review should be made available as soon as possible so undecided Senators are well informed,” Solmonese said.

But the leaked findings have already riled social conservatives seeking to keep the ban on open service in place. On Thursday, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, noted he’s previously taken exception to the Pentagon working group report because he said the scope of the study isn’t appropriate.

“We have criticized this study from the outset because the [Pentagon working group] was forbidden to explore the central question before the country — not how to implement a repeal of the current law, but whether doing so is in the best interest of the armed forces,” Perkins said. “The surveys of service members and their spouses, which were conducted as part of this process shared the same flaw, since they never asked, ‘Do you believe the current law should be overturned?’”

Perkins called on Gates to direct the Pentagon’s inspector general to investigate the source of the leaks and said the leaks to media outlets have “seriously damaged the credibility” of the Pentagon’s review process.

Reporting on the Pentagon study could influence a number of key U.S. senators who have said they want to see the results of the survey before acting on legislation.

A Republican aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the media reports on the Pentagon’s study are having a “positive” impact on influencing those lawmakers to support “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“Members who have said let’s wait for the report don’t have much to turn to when the report comes out supportive,” the aide said.

Nicholson said senators who’ve “hinged their vote on the outcome of this review” could vote for a motion to proceed on the defense authorization bill, then use the report to guide their decision on a potential amendment related to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language after the bill comes to the floor.

“Given the fact that the way it’s set up is that they can take a vote on cloture before Thanksgiving or before the report comes out … then that, in theory, doesn’t conflict with their stance because they’ll get to take a vote on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ after the report comes out,” Nicholson said.

The Center for American Progress has identified 10 senators and senators-elect who’ve said they want the Pentagon to complete the study before Congress acts on the military’s gay ban.

Among them are Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Jim Webb (D-Va.). The newly elected senators who, because of state election laws, are expected to take their seats during the lame duck session — Mark Kirk of Illinois and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have also made statements along those lines.

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said there have been “no concrete changes yet” on the positions of the senators and senators-elect since the publication of the media reports on the Pentagon’s findings.

“Overall, I think it’s a positive to have the stories out there and now we need to see the report itself,” Sarvis said.

The Blade contacted all of those senators and senators-elect for comment. Only Webb’s office immediately responded. The Virginia senator has previously withheld support for repeal and said he wants to wait for the Pentagon survey results.

According to Webb’s office, the senator’s position hasn’t yet changed. Will Jenkins, a Webb spokesperson, said the senator “is awaiting the release of the final report so he can review the official survey result.”

But Nicholson said Webb’s support for repeal is of limited importance because the Virginia Democrat already voted in favor of cloture on the defense authorization when Senate leadership tried to move it to the floor in September.

“Webb voted for cloture, so it really doesn’t even matter,” Nicholson said. “If we can just get past that hurdle, we don’t need everybody on board for the motion to strike vote. So in theory, we don’t really need Webb.”

One open question is whether the results of the Pentagon working group report would prompt hearings in the Senate Armed Services Committee and whether those hearings will prevent the Senate from moving forward with the defense authorization bill and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

The Democratic aide said it’s “unknown” whether the report would prompt hearings in the committee, although such a scenario is possible.

“But McCain, for example, could try to force hearings … and [Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl] Levin could relent to McCain’s request,” the aide said.

Nicholson said he believes there will “definitely be a call for hearings” as a result of the Pentagon working group’s findings.

Lawmakers like McCain, Nicholson said, will want hearings to “tear the review apart” and “discredit everything they’ve done and just try to find ways to poke holes in the eventuality that’s coming.” Still, he said moderate senators would want hearings for different reasons.

“I would expect that they would also support hearings, but I think it remains to be seen whether or not they would let their desire for hearings obstruct moving forward on this right now,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson noted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language provides for a 60-day review period that is “supposed to be exactly for” congressional review, such as hearing testimony. The review period begins after President Obama, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify the U.S. military is ready for repeal.

Sarvis said the decision about whether to hold hearings is up to Levin and said he “may schedule hearings this year and next year.” Still, Sarvis said the hearings wouldn’t necessarily delay congressional action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I don’t know that the hearings would necessarily get in the way of floor consideration because committee hearings are usually held in the mornings, and the mornings in the Senate is not a time when the Senate usually is voting,” Sarvis said.

UPDATE: In a statement Friday, Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said Gates is “very concerned and extremely disappointed” that Pentagon sources have leaked information about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” report and said he’s launching an investigation into the matter.

“The Secretary strongly condemns the unauthorized release of information related to this report and has directed an investigation to establish who communicated with the Washington Post or any other news organization without authorization and in violation of Department policy and his specific instruction,” Morrell said.

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

1 Comment
  • It appears to me that the only servicemenbers who would have problems with gay and lesbian servicemembers no longer having to hide their being gay are those die-hard religious fundamentalists whose anti-gay religious views trump their legal commitment to uphold the Constitution.

    In such cases, those fundamentalists would have to make a decision on whether or not to stay in the military. If their religious views trump their constitutional duty, then they must resign.

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