Mr. President: Suspend DADT discharges!

December 14, 2010

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, as I suggested on Nov.10, is unlikely to pass this session. And even though Democrats have re-introduced it in the House as a stand alone bill for a vote this week, it's chances in the Senate remain slim.

It’s not for lack of trying: I confess that just the fact that Senate Majority leader Harry Reid called the defense authorization bill for a vote last week with the DADT amendment intact exceeded my expectations.

But as we saw, the bill died in spite of promises from Republican senators to vote for it. Maine’s Susan Collins went along only after she was assured the bill would not pass. And Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, who released a strong statement in support of repeal, got bogged down in timing technicalities. Even Massachusetts’ Scott Brown, who actually needs to vote for repeal— regardless of outcome—fell victim to the technicalities.

Sure, there are plenty of Dem senators who have stepped up to submit a stand alone bill. But if you’re watching the Senate follies on the president’s tax bill, you know the likelihood of there being enough time to pass a new and improved solo version of DADT repeal is pretty iffy.

There is also the matter of Joe Manchin, the lone Democratic senator who defied Reid’s call for DADT repeal. West Virginia’s newly elected Sen. Manchin will need to come onboard to guarantee the necessary 60 votes for passage, given the utter unreliability of even the GOPers who claim to be for repeal.

Last week, while one of his aides was busy telling the media Manchin’s no vote had been a “stunt,” and Manchin himself releasing a statement about needing more time to discuss the issue with West Virginians—seriously, senator?—his actual press conference got pretty much overlooked.

This is a shame, because the senator from West Virginia actually had a great idea:

"While I may disagree with a repeal of DADT at this time, some believe that President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, if he so chooses, has the authority to suspend discharges under DADT, if he deems it a matter of national security. If this is correct, and the President was to make such an order, while I may disagree with it, I would respect his authority as President to do so."

Listen closely: Manchin isn’t saying what many of us believe, which is that President Obama could repeal DADT with a stroke of the pen. Instead, he’s saying, fine, let’s take some time here to figure this out but—if you believe the discharges resulting from DADT are unfair, then do something about them: As commander-in-chief, Mr. President, you can suspend DADT discharges!

The president, who back in the heady days of the 2008 campaign promised in a letter to LGBT supporters to use his office as a “bully pulpit” for gay causes, has been long on rhetoric and mightily confusing on strategy, what with his defending DADT in the courts and all.

But suspending DADT discharges—what could be easier? It would, first and foremost, eliminate the injustice these men and women who want to serve suffer when they’re discharged for disclosing, willingly or inadvertently, their sexual orientation.

Secondly, it would send a desperately needed sign to progressives that all is not lost on civil rights and moral issues.

Third, because it would not repeal, and would not affect the repeal of DADT, it would also not affect the administration’s long drawn out legal strategy of having every court in the land individually repeal DADT to make it courtroom proof (a strategy, by the way, that is meaningless if the Supreme Court should ever hear the case and decide against it).

Regardless of the fate of DADT this session, supporters of repeal should follow Sen. Manchin’s lead and immediately demand that President Obama suspend all discharges, past and present, approved under DADT rules.