New Leader in Military Policy Battle

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Jun 16 13:48:37 UTC 2007

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 *New Leader in Military Policy Battle*

By Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 15, 2007; A19

Rep. Ellen O. Tauscher<>(D-Calif.)
took the reins of the congressional effort to repeal the
military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy this week, though she was quick to
point out that ending the ban on openly gay service members has little
chance of passage unless a Democratic president takes office in 2009.

The policy, put in place in 1993 under the Clinton administration, allows
gay men and lesbians to join and stay in the military so long as they do not
make their sexual orientation known. Activists say the "enforced silence" is
both an equality issue and a military readiness problem, preventing skilled
volunteers from joining a strained military and pushing as many as two
people each day out of the armed services when the country needs them most.

Tauscher and about 125 other House members say that the policy is outdated
and that the military and the American people are far ahead of politicians
on the issue. She said efforts to roll back the policy languished under a
Republican-controlled Congress. "We have just been in the majority for six
months, and I'm hoping we can begin the necessary education process through
hearings," Tauscher said in a conference call with reporters this week. "My
commitment is to get this 'don't ask, don't tell' policy repealed and move
forward as quickly as we can." Tauscher is taking over sponsorship of the
Military Readiness Enhancement Act from Rep. Martin T.
who is leaving Congress in July to become chancellor of his alma
mater, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

She said her biggest task is educating people about the policy and its
effects, and she has promised hearings in the House Armed Services
But Tauscher warned that there are difficult hurdles ahead. There is no
Senate sponsor for the bill, and the narrow Democratic margin in that
chamber will make it extremely difficult for such a bill to pass. And President
almost certainly not be eager to sign the legislation. "To a certain
extent, for some people, it does fall across party lines," she said. "There
is a sense that very conservative Republicans, including the president,
would be hostile toward repealing" the policy. All of the Republican
presidential candidates expressed support for the existing policy at a
debate in New Hampshire<>this
month, and leading contenders said it would be distracting to
reevaluate it in the middle of a war.

"I think it would be a terrific mistake to even reopen the issue," Sen. John
McCain <>(R-Ariz.),
said in the June 5 debate. "It is working, my friends. The policy
is working." Former
"This is not the time to put in place a major change, a social
experiment, in the middle of a war going on." Tauscher, however, says it is
crucial to repeal the policy now, when the military is stretched thin by
lengthy wars in
Along with the change in the makeup of Congress, comments made by Marine
Gen. Peter Pace<>,
the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
have inflamed the debate about "don't ask, don't tell." He told reporters at
the Chicago Tribune<>in
March that he believes homosexuality is immoral. His position drew
criticism from several fronts, including Tauscher, who called it

Tauscher said Pace later wrote an apologetic letter, but she said she
believes that his comments are part of the reason Defense Secretary Robert
M. Gates<>is
not putting him up for renomination. Sharra E. Greer, director of law
policy for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and an advocate of repealing
"don't ask, don't tell," said that an estimated 65,000 troops serve while
hiding their orientation and that more than 11,000 have been dismissed under
the policy since it began in 1993. The Government Accountability
that 800 of those people were "mission-critical," including
hard-to-find language experts.
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