Moving forward on DADT repeal

MOVING FORWARD ON DADT REPEAL…. There were rumors that President Obama would address “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the State of the Union address last night, and fortunately, the scuttlebutt was true.

“This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are,” Obama said. “It’s the right thing to do.” When the president made the remark, cameras showed Defense Secretary Robert Gates standing and applauding, along with many Democratic lawmakers.

Marc Ambinder reports today that the president’s directive wasn’t just rhetoric — the administration is already moving forward with a plan to implement the new policy.

Before President Obama announced last night that he would work with Congress and the Pentagon to end the military’s ban on service by gays and lesbians, the White House consulted Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to sign off on the language he planned to use, administration officials said. They did. “The Pentagon is with us,” the official said.

And Geoff Morell, Gates’s spokesman, e-mails me to say that “The Department leadership is actively working on an implementation plan and will have more to say about it next week.” So — Obama’s pledge to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was more than words — he’s instructed the military to get it done as soon as Congress repeals the law.

The plan, as far as I can tell, is still to complete the change through an amendment to the Defense budget, not through a free-standing bill — the same way policymakers approved expanded hate-crime protections last year.

What kind of opposition can we expect? It’s probably too soon to say. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement demanding that DADT stay in place, though, oddly enough, his statement didn’t even try to explain why the policy is a good idea.

Nevertheless, nothing worthwhile ever comes easily, at least not in contemporary politics. Kevin Drum noted today, “Right now this seems like a very winnable fight, but that’s because the pushback hasn’t really started yet. But once Fox gets going, and op-eds get written, and the locker room tittering takes off, and FreedomWorks starts running TV ads, and Focus on the Family blankets their mailing list with dire fundraising letters, and disgruntled military brass start leaking — well, that’s a whole different ballgame.”

That’s probably right, though I’d note that the right really hated the hate-crimes expansion — believe me, I’m on Dobson’s mailing list — and the opposition barely registered. I agree that there will be considerable pushback, but with backing from the White House and the Pentagon, I think the smart money is on DADT finally getting repealed by the spring.

Post Script: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a key hearing on DADT on Tuesday. It’s the first step in making this happen.