Rep. Joe Sestak, Retired Rear Admiral, Seeks To Take Lead On DADT Repeal

April 15, 2009 8:00 a.m.

Last night, I interviewed Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA), who’s positioning himself to be a leader on military issues in the House of Representatives. Sestak is a retired Navy rear admiral, and the highest ranking officer ever to serve in Congress. We spoke broadly about military issues–particularly about the Obama administration’s proposed Pentagon overhaul–but we also touched on the coming Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell fight.

I asked Sestak for his position on the issue, and his take on how the administration–which seems very much to have put a repeal on the back burner–has handled it. Here’s what he said:

I think he’s right to wait until maybe this Fall or in the first year….

I went to war with people that, you know, statistics showed from outside groups, that we had a certain percentage that were gay. And you know how can you come home and say “you went to war for my country with me, but you don’t deserve equal rights.”

And so I’ve asked to cosponsor the bill–to be one of the original sponsors of the bill, along with Eric Massa [D-NY] and Patrick Murphy [D-PA]. I don’t know what Ellen Tauscher [D-CA] is going to decide whether just one of the three gets it. I’d like it to be three warriors to show the import of putting this behind us and making it past and open. However, I do understand that there’s only so much on the plate that President Obama can address at one time. I’m supportive, and I think the community will supportive. Let’s address it maybe later this year. But I’m ready to vote for it the moment it comes up. To me this is a non-issue.

Last week, Roll Call reported that Murphy would take the lead on a DADT repeal when Tauscher moves over to the State Department. We wrote at the time that there’d be significant symbolic significance to such a move–Murphy, after all, is a Bronze Star winner, the first Iraq war veteran to serve in Congress, and a member, along with Sestak of the House Armed Services Committee.

Massa, meanwhile, retired as a naval officer when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but during his career served as an aide to NATO Supreme Allied Commander, General Wesley Clark.

It’s still unclear whose name will top the bill, or if all three will front the effort, but the fact that three high-profile, former military Democrats will be pushing for a repeal will no doubt carry great weight.

We’ll bring you much more from our wide-ranging interview later today.

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