Udall push to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ wins nod from Obama

In the culmination of Monday’s big push among activists and key members of the Senate Armed Service Committee to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”– a group that included Colorado’s Sen. Mark Udall– White House budget director Peter Orszag wrote a letter to Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) to say that the Obama administration “supports [their] proposed amendment” to next year’s defense bill scrapping the 17-year old ban on open gay military service.

That clears the way for Lieberman and Udall and the others to insert their amendment into the must-pass bill during the Armed Services Committee’s mark-up hearing on Wednesday. Murphy will do the same when the bill’s House counterpart goes up for a floor vote later this week. Their basic legislative fix: repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the legal sense, but allow the Defense Department to formally implement repeal after Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ working group on repeal issues its report in December. That working group, chaired by Army Gen. Carter Ham and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson, is soliciting opinion from the military on how the details of repeal ought to work.

LGBT-rights groups are pretty much over the moon. A representative press release:

“This announcement from the White House today is long awaited, much needed, and immensely helpful as we enter a critical phase of the battle to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “We have been making the case to White House staff for more than a year now that delayed implementation is realistic, politically viable, and the only way to get the defense community on board with repeal, and we are glad to see the community and now the administration and defense leadership finally rally around this option.”

Udall has been an outspoken proponent of repeal and has made a strong case for it in interviews with the Colorado media earlier this year.

“I feel very strongly about this. More than 14,000 service members have been discharged in the last decade,” he told the Colorado Independent in March. “These are jet pilots, translators of Arabic, Farsi, Pashtun– languages so important in the War on Terror. All the skill sets needed in the military are met by gay Americans.”

Udall said at the time that government accountants had estimated that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has cost the country more than $200 million since its implementation. He said the process of identifying gay members and discharging them is costly and counterproductive, he said.

Udall sent out a sharp press release Monday detailing his strategy this week, which called on citizens to make sure the administration and the committee know Americans are watching and that explains how the amendment would work with and not undermine or tread on the military working group studying the mechanics of repeal.

As you know, I’ve been working hard for months to end the unfair “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that has been handicapping our military for 16 years. With your help, we’ve made a lot of progress, and now, our best chance at repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is upon us.

This week, the Senate Armed Services Committee, a committee on which I sit, will be marking up the annual, must-pass Defense Authorization bill, and some of my colleagues and I will be submitting an amendment to include the full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” If our amendment passes, the likelihood of repeal this year increases dramatically.

That’s why I’m launching an emergency petition that I will be taking into the markup session, to show my colleagues the depth and breadth of support for repeal — encouraging them to do the right thing and include the amendment in the bill we send to the floor for final passage. But I need your help, because it will be a very close vote.


Our amendment will accomplish several key goals, including full repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” while also allowing the Department of Defense to continue its study to determine the best way to implement the repeal.

In other words, our amendment ensures that we stop harming our military’s effectiveness, but still takes a reasonable approach to ensure that the repeal is done in a responsible way. As Defense Secretary Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, and even Dick Cheney agree, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” no longer makes sense. But some opponents still claim that gays should be prevented from openly serving their country. At a time of two wars, when we can use all the brave patriots who want to protect our country, this argument doesn’t hold water…

Original story updated by John Tomasic.

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