Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ana Marie Cox Questions Robert Gibbs

Air America correspondent Ana Marie Cox asked White House Press Sec. Robert Gibbs about members of the military continuing to be dismissed because of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It's funny watching Cox itching to ask Gibbs her question. Cox appears ready to leap out of her seat.

Gibbs is standing by the talking point nothing can be done without Congressional approval. I pointed out Executive Order 9981 and Defense Directive 5120.36 integrated the military through the executive branch. Pentagon spokesperson Geoff Morrell confirmed there are no plans to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Related: former Army Ranger sergeant Brian Hughes is a gay man. He served in combat and several men in his company kne he is gay. Hughes didn't tell more fellow soldiers because he was afraid of losing his job. Hughes correctly points out Obama is showing a lack of political courage.

Today the strongest resistance to overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" may not come from the military, which polls show mostly supports repeal, nor from social conservatives, who are not in power. Rather, there are many Democratic leaders and strategists who blame the issue of gays in the military for damaging the beginning of Bill Clinton's presidency. They fear it could have the same effect on Mr. Obama.

The truth is that public opinion has moved dramatically on this issue. Public support for repeal consistently polls above 75% -- well above Mr. Obama's approval ratings. The fact that support is above 90% for men and women aged 18-29 should put to rest any worries that repeal could interfere with recruitment.

Update: Pam Spaulding has the transcript.

Q So you had said that the President is working with the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff on "don't ask, don't tell," but earlier this week the Pentagon said that the conversations were "initial" and that there is "no sense of any immediate developments in the offing on efforts to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell.'" So I wanted to give you a chance to correct the Pentagon on that.

And I have two other questions. What other policies are there --

MR. GIBBS: If you ask like that you're going to get bumped up to, like, the first row. (Laughter.)

Let me address the first question because, if I'm not mistaken, the Pentagon did correct that statement on efforts regarding the reform on "don't ask, don't tell."

Q So there are active conversations happening now?

MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes.

Q Okay. And then I wanted to know if there are any other policies that the President believes to be, as you said yesterday about "don't ask, don't tell," not in our national interest but is content to let Congress take the lead on? And second, President Truman didn't see it necessary to clear desegregation through Congress, so how is this different?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I don't want to put words in your mouth, but maybe I was -- maybe I used some poor language, but the President is involved in these discussions. It was the President's commitment to overturn the policy that's not in our national interest that is the reason for these discussions and for the effort to overturn this. So I think the notion somehow -- the reason Congress is involved is the only durable and lasting way with which to overturn the policy is to do it by law. That's the --

Q So when can we expect a durable policy on racial desegregation in the military, since that's never gone through Congress?

MR. GIBBS: Well, I'm out of my depth as a lawyer. And I'm not exactly sure the timing of when President Truman did that, but my sense is that there were also some legal proceedings around that. Try as one may, a President can't simply whisk away standing law of the United States of America. I think that's maybe been the undercurrent of some of the conversations we've had over the past few days on Guantanamo Bay.

But if you're going to change the policy, if it is the law of the land, you have to do it through an act of Congress.

Q And so there's pending legislation? I didn't see any.

MR. GIBBS: I don't know what's been introduced in Congress.

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