Defense secretary urges Congress not to repeal 'don't ask don't tell' this year

Posted on 30 Apr 2010 at 6:34pm

There was some bad news concerning “don’t ask don’t tell” Friday afternoon.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are telling Congress they’re “strongly opposed” to repealing the ban until the Pentagon has completed its review of the repeal’s impact.

Their statements came in an April 30 letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., who’d inquired about the potential for a repeal as part of this year’s Defense Authorization Act.

“I hope Congress will not do so, as it would send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns, and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact and consequence for them and their families,” Gates and Mullen wrote in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.

Because the Pentagon’s review won’t be completed until December, this means Gates and Mullen don’t want to see DADT repealed until next year. But if Democrats lose seats in November elections, there may not be enough votes to repeal the law in 2011. Some say this timeline would push a DADT repeal back until at least 2013, when the law will turn 20 years old.

While the letter is disappointing, it’s not the first time Gates has gone on record opposing a 2010 repeal of DADT. And the letter doesn’t specifically say whether Gates would support a “delayed implementation” repeal of DADT, which would pass this year but wouldn’t take effect until after the Pentagon review is complete.

The letter comes in advance of a major protest of DADT  planned for Sunday outside the White House.

In response to Gates’ letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday evening called for an immediate moratorium on discharges under DADT.

“We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department. In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted,” Pelosi said in the statement.

After the jump, responses to Gates’ letter from the White House, the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, as well as the full text of the letter.

Here’s the White House’s statement, obtained by The Advocate from an Obama administration spokesman:

“The President’s commitment to repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unequivocal. This is not a question of if, but how. That’s why we’ve said that the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed. The President is committed to getting this done both soon and right.”

HRC President Joe Solmonese said the following:

“Today’s letter from Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton flies in the face of the President’s commitment in the State of the Union address to work with Congress to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law this year.  If the President is going to fulfill his promise it is essential that he address this contradiction immediately.  It is inconceivable that the Secretary of Defense would so blatantly undermine the Commander-in-Chief’s policy commitment.

“There is no reason that Congress cannot move forward with repeal while the Pentagon’s review of how – not if – to end the ban on open service continues apace. As part of the legislative repeal, Congress can provide additional time to the Pentagon for a careful and thoughtful implementation of this change to the law.  Action by Congress this year, in the National Defense Authorization bill, will not, as the Secretary suggests, ‘send a very damaging message to our men and women in uniform that in essence their views, concerns and perspectives do not matter on an issue with such a direct impact on and consequence for them and their families.’  But failure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief. ”

And, from the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

“The President of the United States appears to have reversed himself from what he told the American people in his State of the Union Address. We have the votes in the House and we’re close to having the votes in the Senate Armed Services Committee — the President, however, is not helping us to get the votes we need. Service members around the world took the President at his word; we still do.

“It’s time for the president and commander in chief to speak clearly and frankly on this issue. The commander in chief sounds like he is deferring to his Defense Secretary, to a House Chairman who opposes him on repeal, and to his political operatives.

“With all due respect to Secretary Gates, it is Congress that determines the legislative schedule, not the Secretary of Defense. Congressional leaders and repeal advocates may need to give the Pentagon leaders a gentle reminder.

“Servicemembers Legal Defense Network repudiates the delay game plan worked out among House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, and the White House. Repeal legislation can and should move forward this year that is most respectful of the Pentagon Working Group.

“This objective can be accomplished by amending both the House and Senate bills to expressly provide for the Pentagon recommendations to be received and considered by the Armed Services Committees before any repeal action is final. There is no need to bring the legislative repeal effort to a screeching halt to ensure that the views of the Pentagon Working Group are carefully and respectfully considered. If the White House agrees, we need to hear that and soon.”

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