President Obama’s first appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff is continuing, rather than settling, the divisive debate among the nation’s top military officers on gays in the military.
The disagreement comes as doubts grow over whether Democrats can muster enough votes in Congress‘ lame-duck session next week to repeal the Pentagon ban on open gays, known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Pro-gay activists are sounding pessimistic, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not guaranteeing a vote will happen.
“There is nothing more intimate than young men and young women — and when you talk of infantry, we’re talking our young men — laying out, sleeping alongside of one another and sharing death, fear and loss of brothers,” Gen. Amos said on Saturday, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t know what the effect of that will be on cohesion. I mean, that’s what we’re looking at. It’s unit cohesion, it’s combat effectiveness.”
The remark stunned Adm. Michael Mullen, who as Joint Chiefs chairman is top military adviser to the president and who supports repeal.
“I was actually surprised,” Adm. Mullen said. “I was surprised what he said, surprised he said it publicly. And specifically, again, back to the commitment that’s been there which has been to come together based on several meetings that we’ve had, look at the data, and make our recommendations privately, which is where we are.”
Gen. Conway and the three other service chiefs had publicly already broken with the White House. They each sent letters to the Senate last summer urging there be no vote until a Pentagon study is done, thus opposing a White House compromise.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, reiterated he will again mount a filibuster if Sen. Reid tries to bring up repeal.
“Among other concerns, the senator remains opposed to the inclusion of the provision repealing the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ law.” said Brooke Buchanan, Mr. McCain’s spokeswoman.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told The Washington Times: “At this point, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Senator Reid seem intent on repealing ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ without allowing amendments or for the Senate to hold hearings after DoD completes its review,” said spokesman Don Stewart. “But if they do bring it up in the lame duck, and if it’s the same bill, we expect the same result.”
It was a reference to a comprehensive study ordered by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on how to integrate open gays in the ranks. One argument from Mr. McCain is that the Senate should not vote until the study is done and reviewed — a process that could run into the next Congress, when Republicans would then control the House and have six more Senate seats.
A Pentagon spokesman told The Times the report is due to Mr. Gates on Dec. 1, and that it is unclear when it will be delivered to Capitol Hill.
When Mr. Reid spoke with reporters after the election, he indicated he would not bring up the defense bill unless Republicans agree to limit debate.