Service chiefs testify, Levin closes, McCain persists, Brown declares

The Senate Armed Services Committee closed its two days of hearings on the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report with the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. While there is some disagreement as to when and how, the general consensus was that repeal can and should be implemented. Even General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has expressed his opposition publicly on numerous occasions, “think[s] it will be repealed eventually. I just ask for the -- the opportunity to be able to do it with my forces when they're not singularly focused on combat.”

If the effective date really is the sticking point, that has already been addressed in the proposed legislation, which requires President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting. Secretary Gates has made “absolutely” clear that he “will not certify until [he] feel[s] that the process can move forward without any damage to the safety and security of our men and women that are serving, number one, and that our battle effectiveness will not be jeopardized, number two.” Moreover, “before the certification is signed, everything has to be done to get ready. It's not something that I would start, that I would certify while it was still in process as it were.”

Senator Levin, Chairman of the Committee, was quick to point out that “you have to repeal before the implementation stage comes.” Implementation will take considerable thought and time, but there will be nothing to implement if Congress doesn’t first act on repeal.

Senator McCain is still insisting that he needs more time. He needs to talk to more people. And don’t forget his warning that “the problem with the defense authorization bill isn't confined to the "don't ask/don't tell" issue.” This is another case of putting the cart before the horse. You can’t implement repeal if there is no repeal. And you can’t fix the “problems” with the Defense bill, you can’t even discuss them, if the bill is not allowed to come to the floor. Senator Levin: “The place to address the kind of issues which Senator McCain raises is on the floor of the Senate. There are issues, of course, in any defense authorization bill that come[s] out of committee. And the only way those issues can be addressed is to debate them, resolve them in the Senate.”

Now the final push begins to bring up that Defense bill and ensure that repeal becomes law in 2010. Senator Scott Brown, a target of repeal supporters and opponents alike, removed one stumbling block today with the announcement of his position. Or did he?

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.

I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.

Senator Brown’s support is welcome news. But important questions remain, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post (The Plum Line).

One important question: How does this square with Mitch McConnell's letter vowing that the entire GOP caucus would stand in unison against DADT repeal and everything else Dems want until the standoff over the Bush tax cuts and funding the government are resolved? If Brown confirms he will vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing DADT repeal, irrespective of whether a deal is reached on the tax cuts, it makes McConnell's threat look pretty empty.

Keep an eye on the remaining moderates. More when I learn it.

UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: One other quick point. It's one thing for Senator Brown to say he supports repeal in general. What needs to be established is whether Brown's vote for repealing DADT is contingent on Harry Reid jumping through a whole bunch of procedural hoops that some GOPers have demanded. More on that when I get it, but for now, this is clearly a positive step.

Whatever the answers may be, the fight is certainly not over. Click here to contact your Senators.

An archive of today’s webcast is available here.

PFAW