Palm Center’s Nathaniel Frank: DADT repeal in ‘grave peril.’ Obama must get involved. HRC must push Prez, make 2012 endorsement contingent on repeal.

NOTE FROM JOHN: This is why we asked you to swarm yesterday. All is not well. And we knew it from a variety of sources. Now a member of one of THE three groups devoted to lifting the ban is finally going public with his concerns. Will HRC listen?

There’s a powerful new essay about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” over at the Huffington Post from the Palm Center’s Nathaniel Frank, one of the nation’s leading experts on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The Palm Center is one of the three lead groups, along with SLDN and Servicemembers United, working on the repeal of the military’s gay ban. I’m going to excerpt a few of key passages, but the bottom line is that Frank wants Obama and HRC to step up their efforts, arguing that the repeal of DADT is now on “life support”:

Yet despite the military’s move to relax and soon do away with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” repeal in Congress is in grave peril. This is so even though the much-vaunted super-majority in the senate is not necessary to repeal the current policy. As Sen. Carl Levin, the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee explained to his colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman, an amendment to repeal the policy can be added to the must-pass Defense Authorization bill, which would turn the tables on the “no-to-everything” Republicans: the amendment would require a supermajority not to pass, but to remove, meaning that in order to keep the ban in place, the GOP would have to block the entire Pentagon spending bill, publicly undercutting the military.

Repeal is in “grave peril,” but it doesn’t have to be. Democrats have the power. Frank also confirmed what we’ve been saying for weeks: President Obama plays a critical role in getting this done. And, he places responsibility for influencing Obama on the Human Rights Campaign:

It’s also not helping that the gay community has too often given the President a pass on leading on this issue. Yes, Congress has to pass repeal to get this law off the books, but that process should begin with Obama telling the Pentagon to put repeal in the Authorization bill. And for that to happen, gay groups will need to let the White House know that the status quo is not acceptable. Bloggers this week called for the President to take the lead, but also focused their attention on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) the most powerful gay rights group in the world, which has been accused of championing repeal publicly, while privately assuring the White House that it can continue to go slow. Some feel that HRC would rather fundraise for several years on the illusion of momentum than actually help to achieve repeal. If HRC wants to disabuse the community of that suspicion, it will need to ensure that its prized access to Washington power is used to have a real impact, rather than to enjoy that access for its own sake. One reasonable option would be to publicly tell the President that it will not endorse him for re-election if he does not secure repeal in his first term, a promise that Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he believed the President would keep.

And finally, Frank raises the same concern a number of us have about HRC’s statement last May, and then again yesterday, that there we are on a clear path to repeal:

Professed proponents of repeal keep muttering that we will get repeal this year, without saying how. “There is a clear path to repeal,” said an HRC spokesman this week, “and that’s the one we’re on.” Many of us would like to know what that path is if it does not include demanding the President put it in the base bill.

I cannot overstate how important this post is. Frank has reaffirmed what we’ve been hearing, that DADT repeal is seriously at risk, that HRC’s actions on behalf of DADT repeal are rather unclear — and he has laid out a path for repeal. This post validates why we did the blog swarm yesterday. And, that validation is coming from someone who is very close to the action, inside one of the top three groups working exclusively to repeal the ban.

All of our allies, gay and straight alike, should be extremely worried when Frank tells us repeal is in “grave peril.” It is. That’s not where we thought we’d be in early 2010. And, it’s not where we should be.

This can be fixed. But, the key players have to step up, and that has not happened yet. If DADT repeal doesn’t happen in the next few months, it won’t happen for years. That’s the harsh reality. And, it’s why so many of us have increased the pressure on our top lobbying group, HRC, and the President with whom they enjoy a “strong working partership” (in the words of Joe Solmonese).

HRC needs to publicly challenge the President to put the repeal in the defense budget he submits to Congress, and make our support of his re-election contingent on his success. It’s time to start holding politicians we helped get elected accountable for their promises, and their actions.


On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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