May 26th, 2010
02:26 PM ET
13 years ago

Key senator backs compromise on repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell'

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska boosted the chances for a 'don't ask, don't tell' compromise plan to win committee support as soon as Thursday."]Washington (CNN) - A key Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Wednesday that he will vote for a compromise plan to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that bans openly gay and lesbian soldiers from military service.

The endorsement from moderate Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska boosted the chances for the proposal to win committee support as soon as Thursday.

However, the leaders of the four branches of the military said Wednesday in letters to Republican Sen. John McCain and Rep. Buck McKeon that they opposed any congressional action on the policy now, before the military completes its review of the matter.

Read Marine Corps Commandant James T. Conway's letter here.
Read Chief of Staff of the United States Army George W. Casey's letter here.
Read Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead's letter here.
Read Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton A. Schwartz letter here.

The proposed agreement - reached Monday by the White House and top congressional Democrats - calls for a repeal of the controversial policy after completion of a military review expected by the end of 2010, followed by a review certification from President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

Initial votes on the proposal in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House could occur Thursday.

Gates gave lukewarm support for the plan on Tuesday, saying he preferred to complete the review before proceeding to the legislative repeal. The letters to McCain, R-Arizona, and McKeon, R-California, from the heads of the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force specifically opposed legislative action now, saying it would undermine the faith that service members put in the review process.

"I believe it is important, a matter of keeping faith with those currently serving in the Armed Forces, that the Secretary of Defense commissioned review be completed before there is any legislation to repeal" the policy, wrote Gen. Norman A. Schwartz of the U.S. Air Force.

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that Gates' statement on Tuesday "speaks for itself, and obviously, so do theirs," referring to the letters from the military leaders. However, Morrell said that Gates' position was firm on backing the compromise being pushed by the White House and leading Democrats.

Supporters of repealing the policy have been pressuring congressional Democrats to act now, fearing the party will lose its House or Senate majority in November's midterm election and be unable to pass the measure then.

Nelson said in a statement he was convinced that Gates supports the compromise agreement.

"I spoke to Secretary Gates and he advised that while he preferred waiting until the study is completed, he can live with this compromise," Nelson said in a statement Wednesday. He said the compromise "shows that Congress values the Pentagon's review that will include the advice and viewpoints from our men and women in uniform, from outside experts and from the American people about how to implement the repeal. It rests ultimate authority to make this change with our military leaders. I believe this is the right thing to do."

A spokesman for Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, one of the authors of the compromise, told CNN that backers of the measure were "increasingly confident" of its chances for committee approval.

"This could very well be a historic week in the United States Congress," said Lieberman spokesman Marshall Wittmann. Lieberman, an independent, sits with the Senate's Democratic caucus.

Supporters of the measure need 15 votes on the Armed Services Committee to pass it. They now have 14, according to a CNN count, including Nelson and moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. The intentions of two other Democrats - Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana - remain undeclared, but party sources say Bayh might support the measure.

On the House side, McKeon, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday that he opposed congressional action before the military had time to complete its review. So does Mississippi Democratic Rep. Gene Taylor, who said that attaching the repeal amendment to the defense policy bill expected on the floor Thursday could doom the measure.

Republicans will now likely vote as a bloc against the defense policy bill, which had bipartisan support in committee, Taylor told CNN. So will some liberal Democrats who traditionally oppose the measure to protest government policy on Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor said.

Asked if he warned Democratic leaders about the situation, Taylor said: "Yes, for the members of the leadership who still speak to me, I've made it abundantly clear what an incredibly stupid idea this is."

But an aide to Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy, the Democrat tasked with rounding up votes for passage of the plan in the House, told CNN Tuesday that he is "confident he will have the votes."

The aide, who didn't want to be identified discussing internal deliberations, said Murphy already has 192 co-sponsors for the proposal. He
also asserted that "dozens" of other members have said they will back the proposal, which needs 217 votes to pass.

The "don't ask, don't tell" legislative repeal plan emerged late Monday from a meeting at the White House involving administration officials, gay rights groups and Pentagon officials, sources told CNN. There were also talks on Capitol Hill involving White House lawyers, Pentagon officials and staff from the offices of influential House and Senate Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the sources added.

Gates has said he supports eventually repealing the policy, but was also responsible for launching the extensive review of how best to make the change.

A senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the review process told CNN that the Joint Chiefs of Staff remain committed to taking the time to get views from troops.

That process is well under way, the official said, noting that a survey will go out shortly to about 70,000 troops and families to solicit their views. In addition, the official said, town hall meetings already have been held around the country and more are expected, while a website provides a place for troops to write in their views.

According to the official, changing the process now before completing the review could be harmful because some troops believe the whole repeal initiative is an effort to appease supporters of repealing the policy.

The military needs until the end of 2010 to figure out how to implement the repeal in terms of housing, medical and marriage benefits, as well as issues involving the reinstatement of gay soldiers previously discharged under the policy, the official said.

A major problem might be determining how to reconcile the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" with federal law that defines marriage as between a man a woman, the official added.

Filed under: Ben Nelson • Don't Ask Don't Tell • Robert Gates
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. SocialismBad

    So we need to risk damaging our military to please the far left loons in this country?!! Just like everything else the DemocRATS have rushed to push through I guess. Left-wing agenda is the number 1 priority. The country's best interest come in a distant 10th.

    May 26, 2010 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  2. GJ

    This bill would be good for national security, good for civil rights and is supported by 80% of the American people; why is it this difficult? We should be having this argument over DOMA, not something as obviously wrong as DADT. I guess anything with homo-ickiness makes Congress move even slower than usual....

    May 26, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. gg

    america has a long way to go to be land of the free to the the rest of the civilized world, LAND OF THE FREE IN AMERICA IS A JOKE

    May 26, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  4. Dano

    I would think with 2 active wars in the Middle East and elevated tensions with Iran & North Korea that the military would welcome anyone willing and able to do the job and not dwell too much on the person's sexual persuasion.

    May 26, 2010 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  5. bennie new york

    You really can't give the military that power. They will most cetainly act out of prejudice, which is all they have, because all evidence seems to show there would be much more harm than benefit in repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell.

    May 26, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  6. bennie new york

    More benefit than harm I mean.

    May 26, 2010 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  7. phoenix86

    Ben Nelson marching in lockstep with Obama. What else is new? He takes his orders from Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi (as does the POTUS).

    May 26, 2010 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  8. Dar

    Nelson is such a suck up, he knows that he is gone in the next election and just doesnt care any more. What ever the party wants the party gets.
    And who knows what Nelson will get out of this.

    May 26, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  9. demo

    Wonder what he was promised this time??????

    May 26, 2010 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  10. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    That's a way to help keep your job.

    May 26, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  11. Jay

    What did it take this time Ben? No Medicare tax increases for Nebraska?

    I'm a Democrat but I think what it took to get your vote for healthcare reform was totally wrong and you should be ashamed.

    Well, then again, this guy is a member of Congress so I shouldn't expect too much integrity.

    May 26, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  12. Allen in Hartwell GA

    I spent 22 years in the US military. I do not support allowing homosexuals to openly display their perversion, especially if in uniform.
    Back before DADT there were homosexuals in the military, but they knew it would not be in their best interest to make a big deal of it. The same holds true today with DADT, and there is no reason to change. By allowing them to be openly homosexual where will they draw the line? What do they mean by "openly homosexual" – acting and dressing like the weirdo's who parade down streets in California?
    And yes, I mean homosexuals. Gay people are happy people, not perverts!!!

    May 26, 2010 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  13. floridian

    The decision to pass the legistlation now is not because they fear losing their majority - once again the donkeys are posturing for an upcoming election and pandering to the gay/lesbian base - just like President Obama's sending troops to the border. The only time he is willing to give in to the elephants is if it will be beneficial to him and/or the donkeys. Another lesson learned from his Chicago tutors. What is the rush to pass legistlation when a commision is looking at how to best do it so that it is done right? And, once the legistlation is passed how can we expect the SECDEF and CJCS to counter it? Why do ALL politicians have to lie and deceive the electorate?

    May 26, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |

    To do this now is ill-advised. A compromise is like saying we don't care
    what the generals and enlisted men think about repealing the ban.
    Ii will anger those charged with keeping our country safe and we can't
    afford that. So let the review process go forward as Gates and the
    others in the military planned.

    May 26, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  15. LacrosseMom (the real one)

    In a recent poll.......... 78% of Americans FAVOR abolishing DADT!

    ONLY .......20%......... want to keep it!

    (notice its 78% that want to abolish it? These are the progressive-Americans!)

    May 26, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  16. Hammerer

    Oh yea. Just a little more cash to grease the wheels and walla another vote. That is the democratic way. Who needs repubs?

    May 26, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  17. cspurgeon

    Good for you....

    May 26, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  18. dan

    Because of the minority vote,its going to be over 24yrs in 2012 since the Gop got over 300 electoral votes,in by 2016 Calif-TEX-ill-NYK and FL all will have over 35% register minority voters.right now its only 28%.this is the hudge problem the Gop is facing.the Gop havnt won a majority of these States since 1988,in it dont look like their going to win a majority of these States for eternity.

    May 26, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  19. DougDC

    The "senior U.S. military official" is unquestionably incorrect that "a major problem might be determining how to reconcile the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" with federal law that defines marriage as between a man a woman." The ability or obligation to serve has never been dependent on one's marital status, and DADT is in no way dependent on one's marital status. Similarly, the Defense of marriage act does not in any way preclude gays from serving openly in the military. It simply stands for the proposition that the Federal Government will not recognize a same sex marriage.

    That a "senior U.S. military official" considers same sex marriage to be a serious problem for repeal of DADT is, therefor, disturbing. It would appear that the official is grasping at straws in an effort to justify DADT. Sad.

    May 26, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |