McCain Spox: Senator ‘Misspoke’ When He Said Defense Secretary Never Served In Military

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A spokesperson for Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says the preeminent veteran in the U.S. Senate “misspoke” yesterday when he said Secretary of Defense Robert Gates never served in the U.S. military.

McCain dismissed Gates’ claim that repealing the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members would have little or no effect on military readiness in an interview with NBC News yesterday by suggesting that Gates doesn’t really know what ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell will mean for fighters on the ground. McCain, who continues to be opposed to repealing DADT, stated that Gates was not an objective expert on the matter because he’s “a political appointee who’s never been in the military.”

In truth, Gates served in the Air Force as a second lieutenant for two years starting in 1967. (That was the same year McCain, a Navy pilot, was injured in a fire aboard the aircraft carrier Forrestal in the coastal waters off Vietnam.)

McCain spokesperson Brooke Buchanan told TPM that McCain knows that Gates served in the armed forces and “simply misspoke” when asked about DADT by NBC News.

“Obviously Senator McCain is aware of Secretary Gates’ many honorable years in service,” Buchanan said in an email.McCain’s office did not immediately reply to questions about whether the Senator has offered Gates a personal apology for misstating his military record.

Gates’ view that the military’s ability to fight and win wars would be largely unaffected by a repeal of DADT is backed by a new Pentagon study of hundreds of thousands of active duty servicembers released yesterday. The study said “70 percent of troops overall said repealing the law would have positive, mixed or no effects,” according to TPM’s reporting yesterday.

But McCain and other Republicans wary of repealing the ban have questioned the survey questions, as well as the political environment in which the survey is being conducted. President Obama has said repeatedly that he’s committed to repealing DADT, and as McCain told NBC’s Ken Strickland yesterday, the Arizona Senator is worried the political push is keeping Gates and other military leaders from heeding the word of what McCain says are military leaders “directly in charge” who don’t want the policy changed.

“I’m paying attention to the commandant of the Marine Corps,” McCain told NBC. “I’m paying attention to the other three service chiefs who have serious concerns. They are the four guys who are directly in charge. In all due respect, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not directly in charge of the troops. The Secretary of Defense is a political appointee who’s never been in the military. And the president, obviously, has had no background or experience in the military whatsoever. It was a campaign pledge to the gay and lesbian community.”

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