By Tom Carpenter
The ink was barely dry on the bill to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) law, when the opponents of repeal, led by newly elected Representative and Marine Corps veteran Duncan Hunter (R-CA) (son of the antigay former congressmember with the same name) introduced legislation to reverse this victory for American values. While The DADT Repeal Act of 2010 (Repeal Act), is far from perfect, at some undetermined time in the future, it will allow all patriots to serve our country without regard to their sexual orientation.
As many LGBT activists, Pentagon professionals and service members work diligently towards completing all the requirements for certification and implementation of the repeal legislation, the repeal of the repeal looked like a wild card played to the far right wing of the Republican base. After all, the Senate would never pass such legislation.
But perhaps the hearings – including a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) on Thursday – should be taken more seriously.
In the wake of the “shellacking” the Democrats took in the midterm elections, the Republicans now control the House of Representatives as well as the HASC. The impact of the Tea Party members of the Republican base is being felt strongly as the threat of government shut down is real and eminent. This is a game of chicken to see who will blink first in the budget fight. While the Republicans argue they are merely following the mandate of the Tea Party and their fiscally conservative base to reduce sending, it is clear that this is only partially true. Just look at what issues the House has taken up since it was sworn in on January 5, 2011. It is not jobs, jobs, jobs nor is it “ the economy, stupid”. As they attack family planning, the arts, education and health care, it is clear they want to reverse the progress made by the Democrats in the last Congress. Not least of which is the repeal of DADT.
The first hearing, appropriately held by the HASC Subcommittee on Personnel on April Fools Day, is instructive of what is likely ahead on Thursday when the whole HASC meets to consider the progress of the certification process required by the Repeal Act.
UPDATE: Both Wonkroom at ThinkProgress and MetroWeekly have stories about the testimony before Congress Thursday, reporting that the service chiefs basically said there have been no problems implementing the DADT repeal.
Let’s put this into context.
The Repeal Act was passed in one of the greatest “Hail Mary” passes in legislative history. The Republican minority in the Senate, opposing repeal, twice filibustered the National Defense Authorization Act of 2010, solely because it contained a provision to repeal DADT. Even after an appeal from the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff asking Congress to pass this “must pass” piece of legislation, the opponents of repeal were willing to deny funding to our men and women in uniform who are engaged in two major conflicts. This should have been a strong signal of the depth of their animosity towards LGB Americans.
Still determined to do the right thing, a team made up of former Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CN) and Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), crafted a plan to get past the successful blocking by the Senate Republicans – a stand-alone bill. The House strategy was particularly brilliant in flanking HASC, probably the most conservative committee in the 211th Congress, led by the Blue Dog Democrat and recently defeated former Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO). Speaker Pelosi allowed the stand-alone Repeal Act to be voted on by the House, without going through the HASC. The Republicans and their Blue Dog Democratic fellow travelers were caught off guard and were probably none to happy.
Fast-forward three months.
The HASC’s Personnel Subcommittee Chair is none other than Joe “You Lie!” Wilson, Republican from South Carolina. He and
his fellow Republicans gave us a clear signal of their two major concerns: the all-time red herring of “showers” and the alleged loss of “religious liberty” by fundamentalist chaplains.
The depth of ignorance of the impact of the DADT law on service members, demonstrated by of some of these Freshmen Republicans -supported by the Tea Party – was appalling. In the following exchange between one of the two Pentagon witnesses, Vice Admiral Robert Gortney, and Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) you can see that Scott thought that most DADT discharges were a result of conduct, not status:
Then there was Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) who asked why the military didn’t allow men and women to shower together, saying that those in favor of repeal were using a double standard and not being consistent because they were not in favor of allowing this to happen:
The entire hearing was an insult to our men and women in uniform, as well as the military and civilian leadership of the Department of Defense.
Outserve, an organization of almost 3000 active duty members agrees. Jonathan Hopkins, a former Army Captain, combat veteran and spokesperson for Outserve said,
“This hearing illustrated military leadership implementing a repeal plan they thoroughly researched, created and support. It is clearly working. In contrast, some House members seem to be informed only by stereotypes, leaving an impression that does them no favors. Supported by a tiny minority of Americans, they want to halt smooth implementation, and create division within the military where unity is essential.”
Then there’s Servicemembers Legal Defense Nework‘s take on the hearing:
“Today’s hearing represents a shameless and transparent attempt by a few repeal opponents to delay, defund, and derail the timely certification and full repeal of the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law.
“Mr. Wilson knows better. There was nothing undemocratic about last year’s vote to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ The measure passed both houses of Congress on a strong bi-partisan vote.”
Servicemembers United saw progress:
“Despite the transparent intentions behind the scheduling of today’s oversight hearing on the progress toward ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, the hearing went very well and revealed smooth sailing for ongoing training and certification preparation. Under Secretary Stanley and Vice Admiral Gortney thoroughly answered all questions regarding the progress of repeal training, and opponents of repeal noticeably struggled to try to get in digs about this inevitable change in policy. Overall, the Department of Defense continues to do an admirable job in deliberately moving forward toward certification and finality on this issue.”
The next hearing, before the entire HASC, is Thursday, April 7, at 1:00pm EDT/10:00am Pacific. The witnesses will be the service chiefs or their designees, including General Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Army; Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy; General James F. Amos, USMC Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps; and General Norton A. Schwartz, USAF Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force.
What to expect? Buck McKeon (R-CA), the new Chairman of the HASC, has made it clear he was against repeal in the first instance and will closely monitor the certification process. He will be joined by the vocal opponents from the Personnel Subcommittee we heard from on April Fools Day. Joe Wilson has gone even farther by saying he wants to repeal the Repeal Act. The author of the bill to do that, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) will likely be in an attack mode.
We will hear more about the showers, the chaplains, retention of those who object to open and honest service, recognition of same sex marriages and questions related to benefits and pay to name a few. The opponents to the Repeal Act will want to do all they can to reverse the progress that has been made thus far or derail the entire certification and implementation process.
Stand by for incoming. Let’s hope our allies are prepared for this firefight.
Tom Carpenter, an openly gay and married former Marine Captain, is the co-chair of The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy.