‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ hearings, Day 2 recap: Mixed reactions from the Joint Chiefs


In the second round of scheduled hearings on the Pentagon‘s Work Group report on repeal of “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell,” the heads of the five military branches and the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, giving Senators their input as to the possible repeal of the policy and its potential effects on the military.

Marine General James Cartwright, Vice Chair of the JCS, General George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, General James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff and Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of U. S. Coast Guard, all affirmed that they could and would successfully implement any change in the law in regards to the policy’s repeal.

Casey said that repeal would “be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war.” He said that in the near term, it would “add another level of stress” to a stretched force and be more difficult than the report suggests.

However, Casey commended the study’s recommendations for implementations and said the Army could put repeal in place “with moderate risk to our military effectiveness in the long-term health of our force.”

Admiral Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations, said, “I recommend repeal.” He added that the change needs to come from Congress, not the courts. “Repeal of the law will not fundamentally change who we are and what we do,” he added.

General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, raised the most opposition, saying there was “strong potential for disruption at the small-unit level.” He said he could not simply turn his back on the resistance he finds from Marine Corps members, especially those engaged in combat operations.

General Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, gave a mixed reaction on repeal, saying that he believed the study was “too optimistic” to say that risk would be low for repeal. He nevertheless added that he believed the Air Force could accommodate such a change with “moderate risk” if the policy is changed.

Admiral Papp, Coast Guard Commandant, endorsed repeal, saying it will “will remove a significant barrier,” warning that repeal implementation would not be “achieved without encountering significant challenges along the course.”

Implementation of repeal “must proceed with caution,” Papp stated. He expressed concern that openly gay service members, however, could become a target.

With the service chiefs split in regard to implementation, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) indicated he would move to prevent floor debate on the Defense Authorization bill, which contains the repeal provision. McCain said that he could get the other 41 members of the Republican conference to join him because repealing the ban is not a “compelling” issue at a time when the military is fighting two wars and the U.S. economy is “in the tank.”

Senators McCain, Leiberman, Collins and Brown

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) countered McCain’s point, telling reporters immediately following the hearing that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), told him “she feels there has been a fair process and debate of the defense bill, and it hasn’t been cut off prematurely, that she’ll vote to bring up the bill.”

Lieberman also said that he had spoken with several other Republicans regarding DADT, commenting, “It’s on that basis that I say that I’m convinced that we have more than 60 votes to take up the bill — with the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — so long as a core group of Republicans are convinced that the Democratic leadership will not jam the bill through, but allow a reasonable time for fair and open debate.”

Lieberman also said that from his questioning of the chiefs, he believes that all six of them favor repeal — the concerns seem to focus on the timing of repeal.

In a statement sent out by his office, an hour after the hearing had adjourned, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced that he will vote for the repeal:

I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes.

When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) noted that the respective military branches could indeed implement the repeal — as all six flag officers agreed that they were comfortable with the amount of input that they would have into the timing of certification of repeal once Congress changes the policy, based on Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ testimony on Thursday.

As the proposed legislation is currently written, Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and President Obama would have to sign off on repeal before the policy is actually lifted.

Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) polled the Joint Chiefs:

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, placed emphasis on the fact that Gates told the committee yesterday that he would not proceed with certification until the Joint Chiefs had given him their agreement.

The strongest caution to the committee about not proceeding on repeal came from Papp, who told Senators he was worried that the leadership of the military is giving “ambiguous signals” that is leading different military leaders to be “selectively obedient” in enforcement of the current policy.

“When you allow selective obedience, that’s an insidious thing which hurts our overall military effectiveness,” the Admiral cautioned.

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