Don't ask don't tell and Obama's comments on immigration
President Obama made his way to the press section of Air Force One yesterday. Perhaps he got lost looking for an extra blanket or some water. Anyway, he mused aloud about immigration. But I found his remarks also instructive for the increasingly spirited push to get the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military repealed by Congress. The gay community won't like the implications. But it bears repeating that getting rid of don't ask don't tell was never going to be easy. It was never going to be as simple as Obama telling lawmakers what he wants done and how to do it.
As with ending don't ask don't tell, Obama wants Congress to move on immigration reform. But on immigration he acknowledged uncertainty over whether lawmakers have the "appetite" to do so. Now, here's the key quote. "So it's a matter of political will," Obama said. "Now, look, we've gone through a very tough year, and I've been working Congress pretty hard. So I know there may not be an appetite immediately to dive into another controversial issue. There's still work that has to be done on energy. Midterms are coming up.”
Ending don't ask don't tell ranks up there as "another controversial issue." It's a controversial social issue whose politics requires the precision of a drill team. Hence, the careful orchestration of the hearings where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared their support for ending the ban. Hence, the study to figure out what to do once Congress takes action. But there's understandable concern that Obama is the one who doesn't have the appetite to push Capitol Hill harder to take it on by including the repeal in the must-pass defense authorization bill.
Look, as Obama said, "[I]t's a matter of political will." And the best way to get Congress -- and the White House -- to find it on don't ask don't tell is to ramp up the more sophisticated action that has begun. Chaining yourself to the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or yelling at the president is a little predictable. What's needed are more actions like that taken by the Phoenix Five (Meg Sneed, Jimmy Gruender, Lee Walters, (Lonnie) Allen Howard-Stidham and Luisa Valdez) who were arrested Monday for refusing to leave Sen. John McCain's (R-Ariz.) district office after they were denied a meeting with him to discuss his stance on don't ask don't tell.
Now, just imagine that happening at the district offices of the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
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