It’s finally happening: the White House is officially behind Congressional efforts to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this week.
After negotiations yesterday, the White House quietly expressed its support last night for a Congressional attempt to end DADT by amending the National Defense Authorization Act. It did so in a brief, two-paragraph letter from budget director Peter Orszag addressed to amendment sponsor Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA) and two supporting Senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
The letter — which Politico described as “a dry, bureaucratic endorsement” — was pretty
disappointing for what could be a great moment in history. We were in the room with Obama last October when he vowed to the Human Rights Campaign to end DADT and told the crowd, “We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars.”
His rhetoric, if not always his content, were spot on that evening, especially when he said “it’s not for me to tell you to be patient, any more than it was for others to counsel patience to African Americans petitioning for equal rights half a century ago.”
After nearly two decades, the congress is set to vote on whether gay Americans can openly serve in the military in just a couple of days. So it’s a little dismaying to see the President, who is such a master of artful language, addressing this moment with a dull, tersely worded letter from his super-straight budget director, of all people.
Orszag’s letter, in plain English, basically breaks down this way: While we would have preferred that the Department of Defense could have finished its own review on whether bringing gays out of the closet was going to wreck Armageddon on our straight troops and their God-fearing families, we understand that uppity Congress is insisting on making a move this week. You want our view? OK, we give. What you propose will be…tolerated.
But only because your proposal won’t go into effect until after the military’s review is done! It will give the the DOD one last chance to make sure queers don’t ruin retention or recruitment. (Never mind that we already know that 73 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans support repealing DADT.) We need to keep checking for a few more months, and THEN we’ll implement your proposal in December, so Nancy Pelosi can claim she kept her promise to repeal in 2010. (Even though she may have only a month left on the job as speaker by then.) If we do it this way, our military and their families can grow used to the idea of serving near icky gays and lesbians. The Administration therefore supports the proposed Amendment.
That last sentence, as bland as an endorsement as you can hope for, is actually how Orszag’s letter ended. Tepid as it is, we’ll take it.
But our concerns about Obama’s endorsement are secondary to how watered down the actual amendment has become. (The full text is posted below, via AMERICAblog.) Despite a possible vote this week, nothing will be implemented until December, after the Pentagon has completed its review of how to properly implement newly outed, already
serving members. Even then, repeal is contingent upon certification by Obama, Defense secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen.
Until that time, there is no stop order to keep homosexuals from being ejected, so Lt. Dan Choi could still be discharged in the interim. And, in a loss akin to dropping the public option in health care, the legislation does not provide a non-discrimination policy to protect gays and lesbians on the job in the military.
Still, it’s a major step forward, and as Joe My God shows in a round up, most of the major proponents who have fought DADT for years are onboard.
So the White House is nominally on board, but will it actually pass in the Congress? As Politico reports, the votes simply aren’t obviously there to assure success or failure. Rep.
Murphy’s amendment might not even get out of committee, as the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), doesn’t support repeal.
But if the amendment can survive Democratic hold ups, it has an ironically good chance of passage. If there’s one thing Republicans hate more than gays, it’s denying money
to the military. They certainly can’t risk going “soft” on defense. So it’s good politics that this issue is being tacked on to the overall defense authorization bill. Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, optimistically told Politico, ” We’re on track for a good bipartisan vote.”
Full Text of the Amendment to Repeal DADT: