Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Mark Udall urged members of the Senate to pass– or at the very least to agree to debate– the nation’s Defense Authorization bill, which includes an amendment that would repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rule barring gays from serving openly in the military. Udall, a champion of DADT repeal, is so far not endorsing the so-called Truman option, where Pres. Obama would issue an executive order repealing the controversial policy the way Pres. Harry Truman in 1948 by executive order repealed rules racially segregating the military after a similarly drawn-out legislative battle.
“[Defense] Secretary Gates has said repeatedly that Congress must repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and I agree that is the clearest and best way to move forward,” Udall wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent. “I would hope that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle would agree to debate the bill rather than block legislation that increases pay and authorizes benefits for service members, provides the resources necessary to protect our troops in theater and ultimately keeps our nation safe.”
Udall was one of the lead sponsors of the legislation that would repeal DADT, which he told the Colorado Independent last Spring has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 17 years and negatively affected the lives of thousands Americans dedicated to their country.
“More than 14,000 service members have been discharged in the last decade,” Udall said 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.”
Government accountants have estimated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has cost the country more than $200 million since its implementation. Udall said the process of identifying gay members and discharging them is costly and counterproductive.
“We train these men and women and prepare them for duty. It’s a major investment in time and energy and money.Then we spend all this time and energy and money discharging them.”
Republican lawmakers led by Arizona Sen. John McCain oppose the repeal and have expressed offense that the repeal was attached to the larger and essential defense-funding bill. They have maneuvered for months to keep the bill off the floor. McCain formerly supported the repeal. His outspoken opposition this year seems to be a part of the lurch to the right he made during a heated campaign to win reelection in the year of the Tea Party.
The stalemate around the defense bill caps a year characterized by gridlock in the Senate. Steamed at the passage of health care reform in the spring, GOP Senators redoubled their efforts to muck up the workings of the Senate, calling on arcane scheduling rules held over from centuries past, for instance, to end all Senate proceedings by mid-afternoon.
Udall decried such moves late in March when they succeeded in canceling a hearing on the bark-beetle scourge that has devoured millions of acres of forest in the West and created dangerous wild fire conditions. Experts Udall invited to the hearing flew to and from Washington and never gave testimony.
In a statement today written with Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Udall warned that passing the DADT repeal through Congress would ensure the smoothest transition for the troops.
“If Congress does not act to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in an orderly manner that leaves control with our nation’s military leaders, a federal judge may do so unilaterally in a way that is disruptive to our troops and ongoing military efforts. It is important that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ be dealt with this year, and it appears that the only way that can happen is if it is on the defense bill.”
As Adam Serwer wrote today at the Washington Post’s Plumline blog, Obama has so far acted cautiously on the matter in an effort to appease stakeholders, bringing military leaders into the conversation from the beginning, asking Congress to take the lead, defending the policy in court over the objection of progressive members of Congress including Colorado Rep. Jared Polis and avoiding mention of a Truman-style executive order.
Roughly 70 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republicans, believe gay soldiers should be free to serve openly.
A recent Defense Department survey conducted as part of a pending Pentagon report on how to end enforcement of DADT found that the majority of service members would not object to serving and living alongside openly gay troops.