To Republican Right Wingers: DADT Repeal Means DADT Repeal
By Tom Carpenter, attorney and former Marine Captain
President Barack Obama seems to feel the legislative repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is on track. He talked about it at the Facebook virtual town hall and the Democratic fundraiser Wednesday night as if it was a done deal. So why don’t the early Republican presidential contenders accept DADT repeal as a fact? And should we take the noisy threats of repeal of the repeal of DADT seriously?
Well, considering that Donald Trump continues to gain in the polls by advancing the absurd claims of the “birthers” that President Obama was not born in the United States, nothing is out of the question. Indeed, since some of the GOP hopefuls are distancing themselves from the “birther” issue, it would not be surprising if repeal of the repeal of DADT became the next big thing for likely Republican Presidential candidates to jump on. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, for instance, has started pushing a repeal of the repeal on on FOX News: “It’s Not Too Late to Block the Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
He was followed in March, by former governor Mike Huckabee from Arkansas):
and Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi who tells the American Family Association interviewer that the “data” supports his position:
Just last week, none other than former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who once likened gay relationships to bestiality, tried to get some publicity for his possible candidacy by calling for repeal of repeal of DADT:
In the context of what happened on April 7, 2011 at the first House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on DADT repeal, held by the new Republican Congress, these are not idle threats and should not be taken lightly. We are months away from certification and then have the 60-day waiting period to endure. So let’s lock down what happened at that HASC meeting so it’s within easy reach for any quick-response team.
My first impression, as I watched the oversight hearing was how few members were present to question four of the five service Chiefs. The HASC of the 112th Congress has 62 members, and by my count only 18 were present and accounted for, 12 Republicans and 6 Democrats. The Committee Room was as empty as the questions that followed. Was it perhaps that, after the Republicans had taken a “shellacking” earlier in the week at the HASC Personnel Subcommittee hearing, they had experienced a rare moment of clarity and decided to not engage these 4 warriors? And where was the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr.,the Chief who came out most strongly in favor of repeal from the get go? I suppose that since that Republicans now controlled the House and the HASC there should be no surprise at this glaring omission.
Buck McKeon(R-CA), the new chairman of the HASC, set the stage in his prepared statement. Because former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had wisely bypassed the HASC in the last Congress in passing the DADT Repeal Act of 2010 (Repeal Act), he called the repeal legislation a rush to judgment. He reminded the Chiefs of the concerns they had expressed during the Senate Armed Service Committee hearing on December 3, 2010. McKeon focused on the three who had been most reticent. Army General William Casey, Jr., Air Force General Norton Schwartz and the Marine Commandant, General James Amos. Casey had testified the Army was in the middle of two wars, that implementation of repeal would be more difficult than the Pentagon Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG) survey suggested and would present a moderate short term risk to the Army. Schwartz wanted no implementation until 2012 and also did not agree with the CRWG assessment that the short-term risk to the Force would be low. Amos told the Senate that repeal had the potential, at the small unit lever, to divert leadership for preparation for combat thus placing combat readiness at risk.
Repeal won’t happen until there is certification. In hopes of derailing or delaying repeal of DADT, some Republicans in the House and Senate wanted the individual service Chiefs, in addition to the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to essentially have veto power over the certification process. McKeon was reminding them of their past objections, in hope they would repeat them, in order to derail repeal. Would they take the bait?
First up was Gen. Peter Chiarelli the Army Vice Chief of Staff (due to a family tragedy, Gen. Casey was absent). While he stood by General Casey’s original assessment, he concluded, “Soldiers’ response to repeal so far had been generally positive.” In his view successful implementation was all a matter of leadership and so far training had not been disruptive.
Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations, was even more positive. He reported sailors found the training was comprehensive, well delivered and effective. His goal was to have all Navy training completed by 1 July 2011.
General Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, who had been most resistant to the change in law, reiterated his early testimony that should the Congress change the law the nation’s Marine Corps would faithfully carry out the change in the law. “Fidelity is the essence of who we are.” He went on to tell the committee the Corps had completed 100% of tier 1 and tier 2 training and was 40% through the last tier, which included the bulk of Marines. He would certify the Corps was ready when 90% of the last tier was trained and set a completion date of 1 June 2011.
Last to testify was General Schwartz, the Air Force Chief of Staff. He reported the successful training of 23% of Air Force personnel and set a completion date of 30 June 2011.
The Chiefs did not take McKeon’s bait. With such glowing assessments from the military Chiefs, what were the opponents of repeal going to do to derail the process?
First, let’s look at the Republican members who were present to see what their likely agenda would be. Of the 12 who were present, half were members of the Tea Party Caucus, as well as Freshmen, and 8 were fundamentalist Christians. At the same time that this hearing was going on the Republicans were holding up a budget deal by demanding the defunding of Planned Parenthood, making a false claim that federal funds were being used to pay for abortions. So much for “jobs, jobs, jobs.” While these Tea Party Caucus members claim to be all about fiscal responsibility, the truth is that for many, this is a smoke screen for their socially conservative agenda. This hearing would be further evidence of the hypocrisy of these members who wanted to turn back the march of progress on so many fronts.
Representative Todd Akin (R-MO), a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and former board member of Missouri Right to Life, tried to get Admiral Roughead to agree that openly “homosexual” behavior would get in the way of the mission. Roughead would have none of this and shot back: “The fact that a sailor is openly gay or lesbian doesn’t really enter into disruption of the mission.”
Fellow Tea Party Caucus member, Representative Allen West (R-FL), who was forced into early retirement from the Army because of his involvement in an Iraqi detainee torture case, showed real audacity. With no foundation, he suggested that repeal of DADT was somehow related to the botched handling of the Hasan case (unstable Army psychiatrist shot 12 and wounded 31 at Fort Hood). He also asserted that repeal was a result of what he called political correctness.
Adding her voice to the Tea Party chorus, Representative Vicky Hartzler (R-MO), another fundamentalist and former spokesperson for the Coalition to Protect Marriage, was concerned that Chaplains would have to perform same sex marriages in Chapels and might even have “homosexual” Chaplain’s Assistants forced on them. (Not true, as I point out here.) She pleaded with the Chiefs saying, “you are the last force able to stop this onerous policy.”
Representative Duncan Hunter, Jr. (R-CA) following in his father’s footsteps, was not to be outdone by his fellow fundamentalists, but wisely shifted his aim and asked how repeal increased military readiness. Gen Chiarelli fired back, “Inclusive organizations are generally the best type of organizations.” Admiral Roughead repeated the mantra of Admiral Mullen that repeal was a matter of integrity and then told a story about a gay SEAL who was one of the toughest members of this elite fighting force. Marine General Amos said that although he was not sure repeal would increase readiness, it would increase the peace of mind of gay and lesbian Marines.
Representatives Joe “You Lie!” Wilson (R-SC), Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Steven Palazzo (R-MS) were unhappy with the results of the Pentagon’s survey. Teabagger Coffman called it “a conclusion looking for a survey.” Never giving up, they demanded another survey to ask service members if they wanted repeal of DADT. The ramifications of their empty request are untenable, and they have never demanded troops be surveyed before any other change in military policy.
Fundamentalist and Teabagger, Representative Trent Franks (R-AZ) returned to the readiness question and was shot down by the Commandant of the Marine Corps who said,” I have not seen a drop in it (readiness) and don’t think we will see a drop in it.” Making no headway, Franks shifted targets. When he expressed his concern about the impact repeal would have on Chaplains, Air Force General Schwartz countered that repeal would have no impact, because Chaplains would continue to minister to all Airmen, consistent with the Chaplain’s faith traditions.
Most egregious of the lot was Freshman Representative Palazzo (R-MS). He likened his experience, as a new member of Congress to what Sam Houston must have felt when he arrived after the Alamo massacre. Then he turned to the senior leadership of the military and reminded them of the proud traditions of their predecessors like Col. Chesty Puller, ADM Chester Nimitz, LGEN George Patton and GEN Douglas MacArthur and other heroes of the past. He came just short of threatening them by suggesting if they allowed certification to occur on their watch, their legacies would be tarnished. Palazzo’s implied threat was pretty disrespectful, especially coming from a former Reserve Marine corporal who was recently arrested for DUI with a blood alcohol level at twice the legal limit (section should end at 1:43:36).
The Democrats on the Committee were prepared and pushed back hard. Ranking member, Adam Smith (D-WA) wasn’t buying any of the argument that repeal was a hasty process citing the years of study of the issue and making it clear DADT didn’t make us any safer as a nation. Representative Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) told the senior leadership that she never believed the military was as “fragile” as the Republicans suggested and Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) was invited by Generals Swartz and General Amos to contact them personally if she heard any of their troops were not on board with the repeal program. Representative Susan Davis (D-CA) took the wind out of the Republican sails when she asked the Chiefs if they were confident their opinions were being solicited and would be respected. All Chiefs testified that they were completely comfortable with the certification process, they were not under any pressure and were able to honestly and frankly express their military judgment to their military and civilian superiors.
It is clear these military leaders are doing what is in the best interest of the country. Their professionalism came through loud and clear. It is time for opponents of repeal to understand that the bell of freedom cannot be unrung. While Teapublicans continue to push their ultra conservative social agenda, the American people are waking up to the fact that these new representatives are not really all about jobs, jobs, jobs, but rather they are about pushing their version of a fictional America. By pandering to their conservative fundamentalist base, they continue to throw the military and our country under the bus.
One more thing: It is indeed ironic that as the LGBT community celebrates Pride month this June, it is appears likely that certification of DADT repeal will coincide with events that mark the freedom of those patriots who have been denied their right to serve openly and honestly since the days of the American Revolution.