Obama targets DADT

OBAMA TARGETS DADT…. One of the more heartening moments in last week’s State of the Union address came when President Obama declared, “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. It’s the right thing to do.”

The New York Times has an interesting report today on the discussions that led to the pronouncement, and the president’s personal commitment to fulfilling his pledge on DADT’s repeal.

President Obama and top Pentagon officials met repeatedly over the past year about repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that bans openly gay members of the military.

But it was in Oval Office strategy sessions to review court cases challenging the ban — ones that could reach the Supreme Court — that Mr. Obama faced the fact that if he did not change the policy, his administration would be forced to defend publicly the constitutionality of a law he had long opposed.

As a participant recounted one of the sessions, Mr. Obama told Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, that the law was “just wrong.” Mr. Obama told them, the participant said, that he had delayed acting on repeal because the military was stretched in two wars and he did not want another polarizing debate in 2009 to distract from his health care fight.

But in 2010, he told them, this would be a priority. He got no objections.

Several months ago, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) defended the White House against criticism from the left, arguing that Obama’s team is “totally committed to [scrapping DADT] and has been from the beginning.” Looks like Frank was right.

With that in mind, Congress will hold its first hearing on this issue in 17 years when the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up DADT tomorrow morning. There are rumors that, as part of his testimony, Gates will announce that while the administration awaits congressional action, the Pentagon “will not take action to discharge service members whose sexual orientation is revealed by third parties or jilted partners, one of the most onerous aspects of the law.”

As for opposition, the pushback against the White House on this has been minimal, at least so far, but the NYT noted that there’s still a generation gap in the military — younger servicemen and women are far less concerned about serving alongside openly gay soldiers, but the previous generation remains concerned. Gen. James T. Conway, the commandant of the Marine Corps, is said to have “major reservations” about changing the existing policy.

But by all appearances, the administration is taking the matter seriously and ignoring the reservations, with direction coming from the very top: “At the White House, Mr. Obama decided at a meeting shortly before Christmas to use his State of the Union address to reaffirm his support for repealing ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ A White House official said that Mr. Obama’s call for repeal stayed through six drafts of the speech, despite reports of internal battles over how far he should go.”