Dear Kathy Griffin: Please lobby the President on DADT

Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign is all excited that “D-List” celebrity Kathy Griffin will be in DC to lobby for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She’s also taping an episode of her reality show, which will get HRC some TV time. (I actually watch the D-List, and had fun defending Griffin after she was attacked for telling Jesus to “suck it.”) Hopefully, Ms. Griffin is getting briefed on DADT by someone besides HRC.

HRC has repeatedly said that there’s a clear path to repealing DADT this year and the White House has a plan. They’re the only ones in town who think so. Barney Frank said last night that the White House is “ambiguous” on whether it wants DADT repealed this year. Barney called on the White House to come clean and say publicly that it wants DADT repealed THIS YEAR.

And the three groups that work solely on DADT — Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United, and the Palm Center — are all waiting to hear the White House’s plan as well. So is Joe Lieberman, our lead sponsor in the Senate, and Senate Armed Services chair Carl Levin, whose committee the repeal would go through.

According to HRC’s breathless email about Griffin’s visit:

This week, Kathy Griffin is traveling to Washington to add her voice, by lobbying Members of Congress, meeting with veterans and mobilizing support.

She’ll also be holding a “protest” in Freedom Plaza, a small square frequented by skateboarders, and across the street from DC’s city hall. It’s unclear what such an oddly located protest will accomplish other than getting HRC on Griffin’s TV show. We need to be lobbying the White House, not “protesting” in front of the city government that just gave us marriage (and has nothing to do with DADT). But, HRC will never, ever challenge the White House, even now that we know that the President’s commitment to DADT repeal this year is “ambiguous.”

It’s easy to see how Griffin could think things are going well with the White House. After all, in the State of the Union, President Obama said:

This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.

That sounded pretty unequivocal to most people. Apparently, no one on his staff took the President seriously. At the White House press briefing on February 22nd, Advocate reporter Kerry Eleveld asked Robert Gibbs a simple question:

Senator Lieberman is planning to introduce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill next week. Would the president like to see Congress pass repeal this year?

There should have been a simple answer: Yes. But, as we’ve seen time and again, there’s never a simple response from the White House when it comes to LGBT issues. Gibbs refused to answer the question. Kerry asked again. Again he wouldn’t answer.

Just yesterday, Barney Frank said the White House is “ambiguous” on repealing DADT this year. That ambiguity sends a dangerous signal to Capitol Hill. Frank also asked the White House to publicly say that the President wants the repeal done this year:

I believe that the Administration should make clear that it supports legislative action this year, and that while implementation is being worked out, it will carry out the policy in the way it was originally intended, which would reduce the number of discharges, in my view, by over 90%.”

Everyone who cares about this issue wants the President to be clear. The White House won’t do it. And, HRC won’t pressure them. In fact, HRC is giving the White House cover by claiming that the White House is committed to repealing DADT this year and that they have a plan, when everyone has now admitted that this is flat out untrue.

The President plays a key role in this process. DADT repeal should be included in the Department of Defense Authorization bill. The President could put repeal language in the policy recommendations that are sent to the Armed Services committees. But we keep hearing that won’t happen (nothing ambiguous there). That would send a powerful signal to the Hill that Obama is serious about repeal. Not adding the repeal language also sends a signal to the Hill, a bad one.

No doubt, Ms. Griffin will be palling around with the DC A-list gays. She should know that most of them have ties to the White House and won’t challenge the Obama administration. Kathy Griffin can, and should, challenge the President on DADT.

In the real world, this one is a no-brainer. Even Dick and Liz Cheney support ending DADT. Even Colin Powell is now on board. So is 70% of the public, including 60% of Republicans. We can’t afford to wait a year, as it’s not even clear if we’ll still control the Congress after the November elections. And the last time we lost the Congress, it took 14 years to get it back (maybe HRC should book Griffin now for their 2024 protest fundraiser).

If Griffin wants to make news this week, she’ll call out the President. If not, she’s basically just using our civil rights battle as an episode in her show. It might be fun to watch, and will get HRC some attention, but it will have done nothing to further the cause.

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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