Live from the Senate Armed Services Committee: Don't Ask, Don't Tell hearing

by: Adam Bink

Thu Dec 02, 2010 at 09:03


I'm on Capitol Hill in the hearing room, where I'll be live-blogging the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon's Comprehensive Working Group Report and consideration of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. New updates will scroll from the top.

12:50: Sen. Levin thanks witnesses, panel, and announces that the hearing stands adjourned. This will conclude updates. I'll have commentary later today.

12:45: McCain complains again about Wikileaks. Mullen agrees. McCain inquires about who will be held responsible and how. Mullen responds that it's out of his lane, but agrees people should be held responsible. McCain: Do you support some kind of congressional or legislative action to make sure this doesn't happen again? Mullen replies that we should do all we can as a country to make sure this doesn't happen again. Johnson criticizes Wikileaks at length. Levin chimes in to concur.

12:37: Sen. Brown discusses how he never asked whether veterans who were injured, deceased were straight or gay. Asks Johnson whether service members have ever come out to him to get out of the military. Johnson said yes- in the Air Force, there was a gay man who came out. We separated him, then asked for our money back. Brown reiterates Gates' comments about how service members can't just get out of the military should they want to leave b/c of DADT repeal. Asks what the timing is on court cases. Johnson replies that LCR appeal is on expedited track.

12:30: Sen. Lieberman asks about margin of error. Johnson responds that it is less than 1%, far lower than any normal survey. Lieberman, Levin, McCain, and Scott Brown only Senators left present.

12:23: Hearing winding down. Sen. McCain finishes up by quoting Colin Powell's comments in 1993. Says he is "taken aback" that we won't have a referendum of men and women in the military, cites 28% statistic. Talks about how leaders should consult subordinates, though that doesn't mean dictated by views of subordinates. Mullen notes what the report did ask and takes good stock of where they are. Reiterates how it would be an "incredibly bad precedent" to ask them to vote. McCain argues it's asking their views, not voting. Mullen argues we've gotten their views in great part of this survey.

12:21: Sen. Levin rebukes Sessions' comment that we're here because of a campaign promise Obama made. Levin says I'm here because of a law passed in 1993 that needs to be changed and because there are gays and lesbians serving and dying for our country and we should honor the service and patriotism of them. That's what I'm here, not because of some campaign promise of President Obama. Very well put.

12:20: Bayh goes onto ask, isn't it likely that there were gay Americans buried at Normandy, serving at Valley Forge, etc. Ham replies that would be a reasonable assumption.

12:16: Sen. Bayh asks if we can implement this change without imperiling our national security. Gates reassures him regarding such. Bayh notes that integration of armed forces enhanced our national security. Gates exits due to time constraints.

12:06: Sen. Graham asks Mullen what led to the change in his thinking. Mullen responds that the mismatch of values/integrity with thousands of men and women willing to die for their country and asking them to lie. Worries that it is corrosive over time and a disrespect to our institution. Graham asks why the Marines "think the way they do." Notes the Marines Commandant is in a different place. Mullen: I've been around Marines. I think people at that age in the Marines are trying to figure themselves out. Asks Johnson et al to prepare a contingency plan should the gov't lose in the Witt, LCR cases. Notes that he's been in the military a long time and never hears people lamenting the policy. Asks what kind of response the witnesses would get if the only question was whether the policy was wrong and do they think it should be changed. Mullen says we don't know and that question would never be asked. Graham chastises Democrats for moving forward on repealing statute before report.

12:02: Sen. Hagan: Reiterates support for moving ahead with repeal. Asks about re-enlistment process. Johnson responds that they'd need to meet usual requirements regarding age, weight, physical requirements, etc. Hagan asks if he believes they would. Johnson notes they've spoken to many who said they would. Hagan asks what steps will be taken to see that gay/lesbian service members would be treated equally and not as a special class receiving special treatment. Mullen: No plan at all to create special class. Our standards would be enforced exactly as they are today.

11:55: Udall makes extended comments on breadth and width of the study, how comprehensive the research into the law has been. Notes how this is not a "done deal" given certification. Asks about service chiefs' involvement. Mullen agrees how critical they are, and notes that he incorporated their advice and input into his recommendations. Notes that all 6 of us, including the coast guard, agree that implementation plan is a very, very solid way ahead specifically, and they will also say that if the law changes, they will lead the way.

11:46: Sessions, in fine form, uses his time to make an extended speech: We're here because the President made a political commitment during a campaign. Goes onto complain about Elena Kagan's testimony on Harvard issue. Complains about "legal cloud" hanging over this issue. Argues that Johnson is biased as he was in favor of repeal before the report. Johnson: Discusses his recommendation of appeal in Witt (DADT) case in argument to defend his record. Sessions and Johnson debate over his bias and judicial record.

11:41: McCaskill goes onto discuss Truman's integration in 1948 and how only a decade later did Congress begin to seriously look at the Civil Rights Act. Asks Johnson to compare the two time periods, then and today. Johnson: I was surprised, Senator, to find there were surveys of the military back then- 3 or 4 thousand surveyed. But the opposition to racial integration was much higher. By the time the military was mostly integrated, Montgomery buses were still not. Opposition was much higher to racial integration then than gay/lesbian integration today. McCaskill: Asks whether there will be a quota. Gates: No, people will be promoted by the same standards by which they are today.

11:38: McCaskill begins by criticizing rhetoric around this issue. Reminds Gates he was selected by GWB to lead DOD. Notes her own partisan tendencies, and assumed he wouldn't be calling the balls and strikes. "I've watched you under President Bush, and I think you've called the balls and strikes." Goes onto note he served two parties, two Presidents, and always stays focused. Very classy of her.

11:34: Sen. Wicker quotes Mullen quoting Obama regarding how he's made his position clear. Discusses how he feels the President et al have "painted Congress into a corner on this." Gates: The action is in the courts, and Congress. Not the President's decision. I can't think of a single example in history of doing a referendum of the armed forces on policy. Yet here we did. Wicker: If the service members are so accepting of this, what would have been the harm of giving that info to Congress? Gates: "I think doing a referendum of service members on a policy matter is a very dangerous path." [Editor's note: Funny, given that was mine and others' same concern when it was announced in the first place.] Wicker: Do you intend to do your job to fully and zealously defend the gov't in DADT litigation while this is going on? Johnson: I will defend the law, which is why I recommended we appeal the LCR and other cases. It is our obligation to defend the law as given to us by Congress. There is a trend taking place after the 2003 Lawrence decision that we all need to be mindful of.

11:26: Sen. Coons alley-oops, to use a basketball term, a question about the harm a court-imposed lifting of the DADT law would impose. Mullen and Gates emphasizes extreme damage by, to use their term, judicial fiat.

11:22: Sen. Chambliss acknowledges courage/valor of gay/lesbian service members. Asks Mullen when gay/lesbians served under command. Mullen: 1973, and also ten years later, then in mid and late 90s, early 2000's, up thru 2004-05. Chambliss: What was the law in the early days? Mullen: In those times, when commands were all men, [gays] were not allowed to serve. If it was exposed, they were discharged. Chambliss: Did you discharge them personally? Mullen: Yes. Chambliss: Did you discharge everyone you know was gay/lesbian? Mullen: Every single one known to be gay/lesbian was discharged. Chambliss: Did that have an impact on morale of sailors serving under you? Mullen: Not noticeably. Chambliss: I want to quote from page 49, paragraph 2, part 6 [goes onto describe part of the report describing how a majority of those interviewed was oppose to repealed. Knowing that, does that change your view? Gates: When coming to all the responses by those motivated to express an opinion, because they were self-motivated by those who wanted to show up an offer an opinion, I was told that was anecdotally important, but not statistically significant. Chambliss: I am bothered by that, and by your [dismissive] response regarding 265K resigning from military. Gates: 1st, I didn't say it wasn't important. 2nd, very few people can leave immediately. 3rd, experience based on the surveys in other countries shows those numbers aren't accurate. Chambliss: Do you believe the rest of the survey is correct? Gates: Well, I outlined the difference between statistical significance of responses, and anecdotal responses from those who submitted them.

11:15: Manchin asks about chaplain community. Johnson says we may lose some of them, but believes we have just as many who feels strongly that this is the right thing to do.

11:11: Sen. Manchin (in what may be his maiden committee hearing) asks about readiness and whether there will mandatory implementation, all-at-one-time. Gates: Review offers a good guideline for leadership training and so forth, but in terms of how those things are carried out, I would give great weight to the views of the service chiefs. Manchin: Asks about costs of implementation given debt/deficit. Gates: Minimal. "One part of the report that I disagree with, and that's the idea of a new benefit for single members of the services who have a sig. other or a gay/lesbian partner, and it would be for both hetero/homosexual partners and for access to family planning and benefits. I think you would hear from the service chiefs from the service chiefs about this partly b/c of the cost and open-endedness of it, but also b/c we're trying to deliver those services to married members, and concerns about diluting the quality of those services if we're delivering to all single people with special people in their lives."

11:06: Following a 5-minute recess, Sen. Thune asks Gates about the importance of views of service chiefs, and whether he would consider adding their signature to certification. Gates affirms their importance but says he would not. Goes on to mention, if not now, when? Notes how we will always be in a situation of being extremely busy around the world and, possibly, combat/war. My view on when I think I can certify certainly will depend heavily on the advice of the service chiefs and whether we have mitigated the concerns they have noted.

10:55: Webb asks Mullen re individual unit "integration". Mullen responds that he would not sign certification until everything was to his satisfaction regarding, for example, all-male unit integration. Webb concludes by praising report again.

10:52: Sen. Webb begins by praising report for usefulness. Asks Gen. Ham whether we have any idea what % of U.S. military is gay/lesbian. Ham: We do, and it's imprecise. Estimate is about the same as general population- somewhere in 2-3%. RAND's assessment that gay men are lower, and lesbians higher, than in general population.

10:48: Collins continues by asking Mullen about opponents' arguments about doing this in the middle of wartime. Notes Truman's 1948 order to integrate was fully implemented during the Korean War. Mullen affirms. Collins: In fact, on page 83, it says that when personnel shortages of the Korean War necessitated integration, it was done. Mullen: We understand what it takes in combat better than we did back then by virtue of experience. We have changed dramatically as a military since 2001. I think it puts us in a capacity to do this now. We are better led than we have ever been. Making a change like this makes us better, it doesn't make us worse.

10:46: Collins continues, Mr. Johnson, is it fair to conclude that the report does represent the views of the military? Mullen: It does. Collins: If there had been lots of people reporting negative reviews, you would have reported that, yes? Johnson: I would have had a professional obligation to report that.

10:44: Susan Collins, a potential cloture vote who voted aye in committee, begins by Ham, Johnson for report, and Mullen/Gates' statements. Wants to go through some of the objection we've been hearing from anti-repeal advocates. Critics state our troops were not asked whether DADT should be repealed. I would point out our troops were not asked whether they should be deployed to Afghanistan/Iraq; they generally aren't asked about policy decisions. However, given extensive feedback the authors did and that they received from tens/thousands of service members in town halls, e-mails, etc., the report, in fact, does convey a sense of what service members think about repealing the law even if a direct question was not included in the survey. I was struck by a special ops operator who said "we have a gay guy in the unit. He's big, he's mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. And no one cared that he was gay."

[start of the hearing to now is below the fold]

Adam Bink :: Live from the Senate Armed Services Committee: Don't Ask, Don't Tell hearing
10:42: Sen. Ben Nelson notes how important it is for service members to be able to tell the truth, both those serving openly and their heterosexual peers who didn't turn them in. Mullen: I can't square that circle. Nelson: Doesn't the current system undermine values of integrity? Mullen: Yes, it does.

10:39: Sen. Scott Brown again reiterates attack on basis of 28% response rate. General Ham: 28% is well within normal response rate for DOD surveys... I'm comfortable the response rate overall was within norms. More importantly, each category that we analyzed had a statistically significant number of responses. Brown: Do you envision starting with certain units over others? Gates: I think the key, as report makes clear, is training both leadership and the entire force. That's more than 2 million people. Whether we'd begin with one segment or not, we haven't addressed that yet. My personal approach to this would be that until all the training has been completed, until the service chiefs are comfortable that risks to cohesion/effectiveness have been addressed to their satisfaction and to mine, I would not sign the certification. Brown: You will not certify until you feel the process can move forward w/o damage to safety, security of men and women serving, and that effectiveness to fight will not be jeopardized? Gates: Yes.

Editor's note: Brown certainly sounds like a potential vote for cloture with his line of questioning, something a number of sources close to the vote count have told me is possible, but less likely than others like Collins, Voinovich.

10:29: Sen. Reed noted extended debate on the topic already. Not too much else to note.

10:26: Inhofe asks if certification process matters at all anymore given this report and testimony. Gates responds that it still matters to him and he will take service chiefs' advice into account.

10:22: Oh happy day, Sen. Sessions is now present. Sen. Inhofe begins with comments to Mullen on statistics of opposition. Mullen notes that overwhelming majorities would support repeal. Inhofe notes that he believes 28% isn't very much. Mullen: Actually, when you talk about 28%, of the 400K sent out to those in uniform and more to family members, that's a remarkable result with statistical significance.

10:20: Lieberman emphasizes how standards of conduct (refers to "gayness") won't change in question to Mullen. Mullen affirms.

10:13: While Lieberman is on an extended soliloquy about values and comity, I'll take a second to note that I think repeal advocates' strategy here is very smart. Levin's questions about service chiefs, given that it's noted opposition among them. Gates, Mullen's strategy of putting McCain in the position of acting too slowly and putting the military at risk should judicial rulings force their hand.

10:11: McCain to Gates: Very deeply concerned about Wikileaks. Have you held any individual responsible for Wikileaks? Disciplinary action? Gates: Our ability to go down that path are limited b/c we have criminal proceedings going down. Ultimately, not yet.

10:04: McCain to Ham: Is it your personal opinion that this law should be repealed? Ham: Yes. McCain to Gates: How are concerns about repeal exaggerated? Gates: I don't recall using that term. I believe with proper time for prep, training, before deployments or after, if we are allowed to do this on our terms, I believe those concerns can be mitigated. Reiterates Mullen's comments on the experiences of those who have served with openly gay and lesbian service members. McCain: I couldn't disagree more. 12.6% of the overall military force said they'll leave earlier than planned [if DADT is repealed]. Overall numbers- he estimates 265K troops to leave. You think that's a good idea when we're fighting two wars? Gates: Yes, and our military allies had large numbers who said they would leave, and in the end, those numbers were far smaller than what surveys indicated. While there are concerns you'll probably hear tomorrow about special ops forces where there are limited numbers of people, I don't think any of us think the numbers would be anything like what the survey suggests, based on experience. Also, they can't just up and leave. They have enlistment contracts. It isn't like they can just say, well, I'm outta here. And I believe their concerns can be mitigated.

10:01: Levin Q to Gates- you've urged us to be deliberate, but also to ask this month. How can you reconcile? Gates: I think the report needed to inform the legislative process, it's now done so. It's clear and straightforward. The recommendations are doable within the timeframe before the Congress adjourns. I believe, based on the report, that Congress is in a position to act b/c it now has this info in hand and frankly I don't think it's all that complicated to absorb.

9:59: Levin Q to Gates: "Would you consider our acting this month to be hasty?" Gates: "It certainly would be expeditious. As Sen. McCain said, this is a very important matter. My sense of urgency would not be as great were it not for what we went thru in Oct, Nov (editor's note: referring to judicial rulings) which frankly were a difficult period when we were told the law was changed and couldn't enforce it with no training whatsoever."

9:55: Questions begin with Chairman Levin. Sens. Chambliss and Hagan have also now arrived. Levin asks Gates whether Mullen, Gates, Ham, Johnson have considered views of service chiefs before reaching their conclusion. He is smartly trying to reassure everyone that their views, while some may be hostile, have been accounted for. All affirm that they indeed have.

9:51: Sen. Levin mentions Gates must leave at 11:30, tells Senators they will have 5 minutes for questions. McCain complains. Levin assures him there will be several rounds of questions, and we need to accomodate everyone's schedule. McCain complains, asks for more hearings. Gates agrees to stay until 12. Inhofe asks for 6 minutes instead of 5. Laughter. Levin smiles, agrees.

9:49: Johnson continues to strike fear of the courts into the hearts and minds of those listening. "From where I sit as the lawyer for DOD, the virtue of this legislation is that if passed, repeal of DADT will be done on our terms and our timetable on the advice of military leadership." Also uses "judicial fiat" term that Gates uses.

9:47: Jeh Johnson is now speaking: "I want... to ask that the Congress not leave this in the hands of the courts. I have no doubts on the constitutionality or the outcome of the litigation but regardless of how you feel about DADT, or gays serving openly in the military, the fact that there is increased litigation in the courts on matters of gay rights is undeniable. Since 2003 (Lawrence v. Texas) the courts have become increasingly receptive to gay lights claims."

He goes onto to discuss DOMA and DADT litigation and how he is concerned that we'll have to repeal DADT not on the terms and timetable of the President, Congress and courts, but on the judicial branch.

9:45: General Ham (very short statement): "I was cognizant every day of this review that I would actually have to lead the changes presented in this report. If this law changes I and the leaders can do just that."

9:43: Mulllen continues- "For more than 40 years I've made decisions that affected and even risked the lives of young men and women... don't think for a moment that I haven't considered the impact of the advice I give [on those lives]." General Ham is up next.

9:41: Brilliant Mullen quote regarding a Marine, often considered to be the most hostile to repeal: "As one Marine put it, if that's what the President ordered, by God, we're going to excel above and beyond the other armed services to make it happen."

9:39: Mullen continues- "Let me be clear... nothing will change about our standards of conduct, nor the dignity, fairness and equality with which we treat our people... the military is a meritocracy with treatment based on what you do, not who you are... we may wear a different uniform but we are one... there is no gray area here. We treat each other with respect or we find another place to work."

9:37: Mullen continues- "Some may want separate shower facilities... some may even quit the service. We'll deal with that. But history tells us most will put aside personal proclivities for themselves and for each other... there's a common bond against threat of the enemy... I believe the repeal of DADT will pass with less turbulence than some predict, not only because our young ones are more tolerant, but because they've got more important things to worry about."

9:35: Admiral Mullen is speaking and is very short, blunt, and to the point. "What was my personal opinion is now my professional opinion. Unit cohesion will not suffer, families will not encourage their loved ones to leave the service. I don't discount for a moment the results of the survey... whatever risk there is, it is thoroughly mitigated by the [recommendations] in this study. These are the things I know for a fact, these are the things the study tells us. Now let me tel you what I believe. Our troops are ready for this. Most are serving or have served alongside gays and lesbians."

9:28: Gates continues- (c) this change imposed by judicial fiat would be the most dangerous possibility; therefore, I agree with Sen. McCain that change is for the Congress to decide; we need a process the carries the "imprimateur" of the Congress elected by the people; we cannot "roll the dice" that judicial change would go well (d) this is the second time that I have dealt with this issue, the 2nd being the CIA in 1992, and as director I ordered that openly gay applicants be treated like all over applicants. That was significantly different in circumstance and consequence than what we're facing today. Views towards gays and lesbians are different today, and there is growing acceptance in society as a whole, and in uniformed ranks as a whole. I ask that all involved resist the lure of bringing our troops and families into the politics of this issue.

9:26: Sens. Wicker and Thune are now here.

9:24: Sec. Gates is now speaking. He is emphasizing (a) his job was only to discover how best to prepare the military for such a change, but nevertheless he thought it important to survey the military (b) A strong majority (more than 2/3) do not object to gays and lesbians serving openly in uniform; repeal of DADT, while potentially disruptive in the short term, would not be the wrenching change others had predicted.

9:22: McCain discusses how he's concerned about the "rush to repeal" despite significant numbers of service members viewing it negatively. He continues, "As this debate continues, I hope people would put aside their political agendas." Hah. "I'm not saying this law should never change, I am simply saying that it may be premature... without further consideration of this report and further study by Congress." No word on which goalposts he will newly set up.

9:16: Sen. McCain: "This capable force of ours could repeal DADT if asked to... what I want to know is not can our Armed Forces repeal this law but whether they should. Unfortunately, that's not the focus of this study... this is a question that must be answered by Congress with proper consideration of the issue... the DOD has had 10 months to complete this report. Together they contain over 1,000 pages of data and analysis. We received it 36 hours ago and are still carefully analyzing it. What I can saw now is that in addition to my concerns over what questions were not asked, I'm troubled by the fact that this report represents only 28% of the military force. I find that hard to view that as a fully representative sample set... what appears clear is that the survey and anecdotal data... do not lead to a firm conclusion."

McCain continues to highlight the statistics he views as arguments against repeal, such as Marine surveys.

9:14: Sens. Brown, Burr, and LeMieux are now here.

9:07: Sen. Levin gaveled in the hearing to announce the topic and testimony and detailing how comprehensive the overview of the policy has been. So far, present are Sens. Levin, Manchin, Collins, McCaskill, Webb, Udall, Inhofe, Lieberman, Bill Nelson, Ben Nelson, and Reed.

9:04 AM: Senators are filing in along with Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, and Working Group Co-Chairs Jeh Johnson and General Carter Ham. The hearing appears set to begin in the next 10 minutes. LGBT allies have certainly filled out much of the room- to my left are GetEqual Managing Director Heather Cronk, to my right are HRC President Joe Solmonese and Legislative Counsel Ty Cobb. Code Pink is also here. The line was 25 people long when I arrived at 7:57 AM and the room is now packed.


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