Obama Looks to Lame-Duck Session To Push Through ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal

Fred Lucas | November 3, 2010 | 7:22pm EDT
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President Obama answers question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, President Obama says he may rely on the “lame-duck” Democratic Congress to push through a measure allowing homosexuals to openly and legally serve in the U.S. military.

A forthcoming review in early December would give the administration time to act, “potentially during the lame duck session” to change the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the president said on Wednesday.

A lame-duck session allows members of Congress who were voted out of office to vote on controversial bills without being held accountable by voters.

During Wednesday’s presidential news conference, Obama was asked about don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) and his pledge to end it.

“When you had 60 votes and 59 votes in the Senate – it’s a tough issue – you haven’t been able to do it,” a reporter noted. “Do you now have to tell your liberal base that, with maybe 52 or 53 votes in the Senate, you’re just not going to be able to get it done in the next two years?”

The president responded, “I’ve been a strong believer in the notion that if somebody is willing to serve in our military, in uniform, putting their lives on the line for our security, that they should not be prevented from doing so because of their sexual orientation.”

Obama added that a majority of Americans would support dropping the DADT policy, thus allowing homosexuals to openly serve.

“Now, as commander-in-chief I’ve said that making this change needs to be done in an orderly fashion,” he continued. “I’ve worked with the Pentagon, worked with (Defense) Secretary Gates, worked with Admiral Mullen to make sure that we are looking at this in a systemic way that maintains good order and discipline, but that we need to change this policy.”

“There’s going to be a review that comes out at the beginning of the month that will have surveyed attitudes and opinions within the armed forces,” Obama continued.

“I will expect that Secretary of Defense [Robert] Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral [Mike] Mullen will have something to say about that review. I will look at it very carefully. But that will give us time to act in – potentially during the lame duck session – to change this policy.”

Rep. “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), in line to chair the House Armed Services Committee, has not supported the push to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. (Photo: McKeon Web site)

If the measure to end DADT does not succeed during the lame-duck session, it could face a more difficult road in the new Congress.

The House Armed Services Committee, which like all House committees will be under Republican control in the 112th Congress, is set to be chaired by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.), who has not supported ending the policy.

He said Wednesday the Republicans in the House and Senate want to pass a Defense authorization bill “that is not weighed down by the current majority's social agenda item” – an apparent reference to the DADT issue.

The Armed Services Committee lost several Democrats in Tuesday’s election, including its strongest proponent for ending the DADT policy, Rep. Patrick Murphy (Pa.)

DADT, a directive in Defense Department rules, stems from a 1993 federal law, 10 U.S.C 654, which prohibits homosexuals from serving in the military. Under DADT, military officials are not to ask about a service member’s sexuality, and a serving member who is homosexual is not to disclose the fact.

The House of Representatives passed a Defense bill in May that includes an amendment repealing most elements of 10 U.S.C. 654, thereby allowing the Pentagon to eliminate the DADT policy. That bill must be passed by the Senate and then be signed by the president to become law.

Last month in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that 10 U.S.C. 654 was unconstitutional and directed the government to suspend the DADT policy. The Justice Department, under its obligation to defend existing law, appealed the decision.

“Keep in mind we’ve got a bunch of court cases that are out there as well,” Obama said Wednesday.

“And something that would be very disruptive to good order and discipline and unit cohesion is if we’ve got this issue bouncing around in the courts – as it already has over the last several weeks – where the Pentagon and the chain of command doesn’t know at any given time what rules they’re working under.

“We need to provide certainty and it’s time for us to move this policy forward.”

The issue should not be a partisan one, the president continued. “This is an issue, as I said, where you’ve got a sizable portion of the American people squarely behind the notion that folks who are willing to serve on our behalf should be treated fairly and equally.”

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