Udall blasts new House DADT bill as an uninformed ‘step back’

Republican California Rep. Duncan Hunter with Colorado Rep. Doug Lamborn as cosponsor has introduced the “Restore Military Readiness Act,” which would require the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to independently sign off on repeal of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy prohibiting gay Americans from serving openly in the military. Lamborn told the Colorado Independent he’s concerned that implementing the repeal, which was passed in December, could divert resources from winning the war in Afghanistan. Yet Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall, who spearheaded the repeal effort, told the Independent that he asked the same military branch chiefs to address these same concerns at the widely publicized hearing on the matter held at the capitol before lawmakers voted in favor of repeal.

“At the hearing on the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I explicitly asked each of the service chiefs this question: ‘If we change this policy, can you make it work?’” Udall wrote in an email. “Each of the [chiefs] answered ‘yes,’ adding that they would implement the law ‘thoroughly, professionally, and with conviction.’  I would expect nothing less from our fine armed forces.”  

More than that, said Udall, the chiefs directly addressed the issue of readiness and their own concerns with implementing the repeal, concerns alleviated by assurances they received from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

“The [chiefs] agreed that their own concerns were alleviated given [Defense Secretary Robert] Gates’s vow that he would not sign any certification that risks to combat readiness, unit cohesion and effectiveness were eliminated – one of the triggers that will begin repeal of implementation – until he is satisfied with the advice of the service chiefs.  

Udall believes Hunter’s bill isn’t really about what the branch chiefs think, given the public discussions the chiefs themselves engaged in around repeal.

“I’m quite sure that the chiefs themselves would not see this proposed bill as a step forward. It is, in fact, a step back,” Udall said.

Lamborn, however, a Colorado Springs conservative who has long opposed repeal of DADT, remains unconvinced.

“It is vital that Congress not interfere with our military’s ability to defend our nation and win wars,” he wrote to the Independent.

“The service chiefs — most notably the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Army Chief of Staff — provided a clear and candid assessment of the unique challenges involving implementation, emphasizing that doing so could take time, attention and resources away from winning in Afghanistan.  Additionally, as the recent DoD survey revealed, among the Marine Corp and various combat arms specialties, 40-60 percent had concerns about the repeal.

“Congress must take those concerns seriously, and that is what this bill would do.”

Speaking on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the past, Lamborn has said that the military is no place to conduct social experiments. American society may or may not embrace full gay rights at some point, he argued, but until that time military policy should be focused on national security.

Others believe that time has arrived and are criticizing Hunter’s bill as a less-than-genuine policy initiative designed to dredge up again the issue of gays in the military, rehashing a debate that has been going on for decades and seemed to be effectively put to rest with bipartisan support last month. Fifteen House Republicans and eight Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to support the repeal.

Many will see Hunter’s bill as part of what some progressive commentators are describing as a trend this legislative session, where the first rash of legislation brought by the new Republican majority places priority on social issues rather than on economic and fiscal issues– the areas repeatedly described as the top priority among GOP House leaders after the midterm election swept them into power.

New Jersey Republican Chris Smith, for example, introduced the third bill of the session, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would reach into the private sector to penalize insurance companies for offering abortion coverage by stripping health insurance tax breaks from private policy holders, both men and women.

Tea Party voters nationwide, driven by energetic concern to restrict government intrusion into personal lives and to enact fiscal conservative policy, surely didn’t vote for Republicans to see them take up first thing a doomed-to-fail bill on tax-payer abortion and another that would reinstate the expensive Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.

Indeed, the lawmakers motivated to sponsor these bills seem to be acting mostly on their own priorities and on those of special interest blocs. Even beyond Tea Party circles, Republican voters more generally seem to be moving away from the social issues that defined the party over the last few decades.

Aaron Blake, writing Thursday at Washington Post blog The Fix, describes what he calls a “quiet evolution” on gay rights taking place within the Republican party. He reports on the inching move toward acceptance on the part of some GOP leaders despite resistance, a move likely spurred by a larger cultural shift occurring on the ground among Republican voters. He cites a series of recent gay victories and public opinion polling to make his point.

A few of the victories he cites: The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) has invited gay Republican groups to its annual meeting. High-profile GOP consultant Mary Matalin is hosting the first Washington fundraiser for the gay Republican group GOProud next month. Gay groups have been included in meetings with all three major GOP campaign committees.

Some of the poll data: Washington Post/ABC News surveys that show Republican support for gay soldiers serving openly in the military increased from 50 percent in 2001 to 74 percent at the end of 2010. The Pew Research Center surveys signaling that over the last 23 years, the percentage of Republicans who thought school boards should be able to fire gay teachers dropped from 59 percent to 32 percent. What’s more, Blake writes, the percentage of Republicans who don’t believe gay teachers should be fired rose from 56 percent to 64 percent between 2007 and 2009.

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