At this point the fight surrounding the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy has shifted. Settled is the question of whether it should stay or go. Joint Chief of Staff Mike Mullen effectively delivered the last word in that debate when he said in Senate testimony:
"Allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me personally, it comes down to integrity -- theirs as individuals and ours as an institution."
But a debate rages on, centering on how repeal should be pursued, legislatively. Gates attempted to shut down a growing movement calling for repeal now, not later. His strong arm-tactic may have backfired. After the fold why and why Pelosi's statement of support should not be under-appreciated.
There are two legislative strategy camps: let's call them "the attachers" and the "stallers."
The attachers want to attach the repeal language to the military spending budget being marked up in the House and the Senate this month. This is a smart move as it will essentially makes repeal-filibuster proof. It's smart politics, too, as it will provides a lot of "cover" for conservadems who will not want to vote for DADT out on the open floor of a stand alone bill strategy.
And then there's the "stallers" camp. They want to vote "later..." (they won't really say when). We see a timeframe in Marc Ambinder's piece in the Atlantic of "late 2010, early 2011," which seems blithely unaware that there may well be a very different Congress sitting in "early 2011" than there is in "late 2010." And absent a military budget to attach repeal to, one presumes this measure would be pursued by stand alone? Anyone know? Because I haven't seen anyone advocating "vote later..." articulate an actual legislative plan.
Informed and invested repeal advocates recognize a standalone bill strategy as pure madness. It will require every Democrat in the Senate and 1 GOP. It just isn't realistic to think that can happen. Congress is just not that into teh gays, even many Democrats.
Now, why Gates' statementyesterday urging Congress not to act in this session, may well have been a major backfire in tamping down the "Repeal in 2010" movement.
Gates prompted Nancy Pelosi to post the following statement on her House Speaker website. And please note, it is a press release, not some backroom, anonymous source. It's a direct hit, meant to be heard far and wide:
"We all look forward to the report on the review of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy by the Defense Department. In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted."
Repeal bill lead sponsor Patrick Murphy (PA) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) also immediately piped up their respectful dissent on Gates' directive. Now, those aren't new positions for either of them. But added to Pelosi, it is now a story. Like kind of, like, a big story. Like kind of a big story the media can't and won't ignore, which they've mostly done up until now.
Media apathy was allowing this month's dates for attachment the the military budget to quietly pass with little or no comment. Drawing attention to this time period was the whole point of the civil disobedience events and the heckling of the President. Activists hoped to prod the media to look up for just a tiny moment and report on the sausage making process behind repeal and report reality.
And now, we have a full blown STORY on our hands: Gillibrand, Murphy, Pelosi vs. Gates & Obama. Epic battle! And it squares nicely with the media's favorite topic: "Dems in disarray!" which is catnip to them. And there have been previous reports of Democrats disagreeing on this.
It's possible in the coming weeks, the media might choose to dissect the strategies that repeal might take. And the chattering class is very likely to weigh in that the prospect of passing a stand alone bill in the lame duck session, as Marc Ambinder suggested was the alternative plan, is just not realistic. And finally someone other than the LGBT community will be saying that.
To deconstruct Pelosi's statement we find while it is very brief it is very aggressive toward the administration.
And perhaps it's no wonder. Obama promised repealing the policy in the campaign, over and over. He collected votes, money and volunteers on that goal. And now Nancy Pelosi is one of two Congressional leaders who are ultimately tasked with delivering repeal legislation to Obama's desk.
And she's not a dummy.
She knows military attachment to this year's spending budget is the easiest, least painful, most surefire path to success. And that's her job, to map out legislative strategies that are most likely to succeed and the least likely to leave blood on the battlefield. And Gates' statement, and the White House ambivalence, completely undermine her ability to do that.
And she--House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-SF)--will feel the heat both locally and nationally should repeal efforts fail. Locally she's sure to catch hell and be looking at a very painful midterm season.
Nationally, the buck for legislative repeal stops at her desk. She can't do it all, but it's her job to guide that legislation through the most successful path. And when bills fail, it is the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader who are held accountable for failures. "Oh, if only they could do their job better, the votes would be there!"
There are a few other points that make a rather uncomfortable public optics for the White House. The inclusion of word "immediately" is very interesting.
First of all it's a welcome sound, she's essentially saying: "DADT must end, it must end now!" Up until this point, for the most part, the only people saying that were in the LGBT community.
The implied threat that she'd like to see executive action "immediately" sounds me she's actually owning her responsibility to solve the problem. And telling the White House, if you don't stop discharges "immediately," we're going right ahead as we've been planning, Gates letter or not.
And she's also refocusing the responsibility back at the administration: Pelosi has introduced the topic stop-loss, or DOD prerogative to administer DADT investigations as a means of ending DADT.
In doing so she threatens to robbed administration of a favorite dodge for owning the policy's continuation 15 months into the Obama Presidency. Her executive action suggestion will be dissected and discussed, and people will conclude, it is a correct reading of the law. Obama does have the power to end discharges, but he has not exercised it. And as the months and years of discharges drag on, it will become an increasing problem for him, politically and morally.
Now, perhaps recognizing a full-blown disaster in the making, White House issues a release that, doesn't really agree with Gates, don't really disagree. Like nearly everything they've said about DADT, no one can really arrive at a consensus about what it's really saying.
The press silence on this story has been it's death knell, a sudden surge of interest could be it's resurrection. Just yesterday, I was griping to a friend that even Daily Kos, had thus far, mostly not Front Paged any stories examining with any detail, the "attachment" vs. "stallers" debate. Now, just last night, we saw three in a matter of hours. (The lone previous example I can think of was Dante Atkins story. Unfortunately his tactic endorsement of GetEQUAL's more controversial attention grabbing tactics distracted most who read it from listening to his serious and correct assessment of the political and legislative realities that brought him to the conclusion.)
And maybe the press will report that "Waiting for the study," is a dodge and not a very convincing one. We just passed health insurance reform bill that has provisions that don't take effect until 2014. There is no reason to pretend we cannot pass a repeal law that similarly, goes into effect at a later date. Congress does this all the time.
There is a reasonable offer on the table to vote in 2010 for repeal, with a delayed implementation until after the study is complete. The policy can be sunset for sometime in 2011. The major LGBT lobbying groups including Human Rights Campaign,Servicemembers Unitedand the Servicemembers Legal Defense Networkhave indicated they are amendable to such a compromise. And my sense is, the grassroots will be too.
To avert this compromise, the stallers camp has to find a way to make the story go away. And I find it a little hilarious, in response to Chris Geidner of the LGBT news organization, DC Agenda inquiry about the White House reaction to Gates, Marc Ambinder tweeted:
@chrisgeidner all I know is that letter took WH by surprise. Working on more.
So I guess we may see them running with the idea that the Secretary of Defense issuing marching orders to Congress yesterday was a freelance project.
And with tomorrow's GetEQUAL protest event the story ain't going away anytime soon.
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