Gates: We’ve Only Spoken to Obama About Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell One Time

April 2, 2009 1:42 pm

Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates raised some eyebrows (however briefly) by saying on Fox News Sunday that the administration had no immediate plans to move forward on President Obama’s promise to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. “I think the president and I feel like we’ve got a lot on our plates right now,” Gates said. “Let’s push that one down the road a little bit.” Watch:

In a statement to TPMDC, Human Rights Campaign spokesman Brad Luna said, “We found the comments disappointing. We’d rather from hear him about a plan for repeal than a comment on the president’s workload.”

DADT is a law, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, and for it to be repealed permanently, Congress would have to pass legislation explicitly doing so, but its diktats could in theory be overturned (at least temporarily) by an Obama executive order. He has, of course, not signed such an order.

The question is, then, what sort of technical complications, if any, would a repeal entail? Is there any sense in which no longer discriminating against gays and lesbians would put more on the administration’s table, as Gates suggested, or is the reluctance to act more a matter of political expediency.

I put that question to the Pentagon and Defense Department spokeswoman Cynthia Smith wrote back:

Don’t ask, don’t tell is law. It is a political decision. And if the law changes, we will comply with the law. Secretary Gates has had one brief conversation with the president about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He and Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are discussing how to move forward on this issue and discussions are still ongoing.

That doesn’t directly answer to my question, but it raises a different one: How much time and thought is the administration really putting into this. Gates says he’s only discussed DADT with the president once, but on March 2 the New York Times published a story about Rep. Ellen Tauscher’s attempts to overturn DADT, which contained this update from White House spokesman Tommy Vietor: “The president supports changing ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.’ As part of a longstanding pledge, he has also begun consulting closely with Secretary Gates and Chairman Mullen so that this change is done in a sensible way that strengthens our armed forces and our national security.”

The statement implies a greater level of coordination with Gates on DADT than Gates himself suggests. And it indicates, perhaps, that the White House no longer plans to “end” the DADT policy, but instead hopes to change it. So where does the administration actually find itself on this issue? We’ll try to figure that out and get back to you.

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