ADVOCATE: White House backed away from DADT repeal in early Feb.: ‘It was a definitive shut-down from [Jim] Messina’

Kerry Eleveld has a blockbuster article tonight exposing what many of us have been hearing for quite awhile. Shortly after Obama told the nation in the State of the Union that he wanted to repeal DADT “this year,” a meeting was held at the White House with gay “leaders” where Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina basically said it wasn’t going to happen this year.

Yet just days after the January 27 speech, White House officials convened a meeting on February 1 with LGBT advocates in which they said the policy would not be included in the president’s recommendations for the Department of Defense authorization bill, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meeting.

“It was a definitive shut-down from [Jim] Messina,” said a source, who was present at the meeting and agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, referring to White House deputy chief of staff. “He said it would not be going into the president’s Defense authorization budget proposal.” The news was a blow to activists since the Defense funding bill is the best legislative vehicle for including a measure to overturn the policy. “It almost seemed like the bar on the hurdle got raised two or three times higher,” said the source.

That was a huge blow. And, Messina would have been the one to deliver the blow. He’s overseeing DADT strategy at the White House.

Even the Human Rights Campaign, which tried to downplay how devastating the Messina meeting really was, had to admit that right after the President promised in the State of the Union to repeal DADT this year, the White House began to back off the President’s clear promise:

But the Human Rights Campaign’s David Smith, who also attended the meeting, recalls it differently.

“They were noncommittal about legislation in that meeting, but not definitively one way or the other,” said Smith, vice president of programs for HRC.

Non-committal only five days after the President was quite committal in his speech.

Let’s be realistic: Everything we’ve heard from the White House and the Pentagon over the past few months is that repeal isn’t happening this year. These decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. There’s always a political consideration and when Messina and his boss, Rahm Emanuel, are involved, they’re usually craven political considerations. Rahm and Messina made the calculation that they won’t pay a political price for blocking the repeal of DADT this year. The only problem is that if the Democrats suffer heavy losses in the November elections, which everyone expects, DADT won’t be repealed during Obama’s first-term, and it may not be repealed for years after that. (The last time we lost the Congress it took 14 years to get it back, and even then we had to wait two more years for a Democratic president — and even then, we’re having an extremely difficult time being taken seriously.) Another 14 year wait is brutally unfair to the gays and lesbians who serve and want to serve their country. And it’s unfair to the millions of gays and lesbians, and our friends and families, who voted for, campaigned for, and donated money to the Obama campaign.

Back to “noncommittal.” Just five days before the Messina meeting the President said he was going to have DADT repealed this year — he even said “this year” twice. But, by everyone’s recollection at this White House meeting, the indications were certainly otherwise. That should have set off alarms. Yet, at the end of February, HRC President Joe Solmonese told his organization’s donors at a fundraiser that DADT would be repealed this year. HRC already had indications to the contrary. The warning signs were there. The White House has played us for fools. And HRC did nothing, said nothing, other than repeatedly reassuring the gay public that everything was on track, when they knew it wasn’t because Messina had told them it wasn’t going to happen.

What’s really frustrating is that we could repeal the law this year if the President would simply follow through on his promise:

[SLDN's Aubrey] Sarvis added that President Obama could boost repeal efforts by stating his desire to see the measure passed this year but, more importantly, by getting personally involved with lobbying senators.

“We need the president to become actively engaged in this vote, not unlike the way he is engaged with financial services reform right now,” he said.

Earlier this week, Sarvis wrote a letter to Obama, which included this line “I am very disturbed by multiple reports from Capitol Hill that your Congressional liaison team is urging some Members of Congress to avoid a vote on repeal this year.”

Now, we know that the decision not to proceed with the repeal of DADT this year before the potentially devastating mid-term elections in November, was made by senior White House officials and conveyed to gay leaders several months ago, while most of us were still thinking Obama actually meant what he said in the State of the Union. And a large part of the reason we believed it is because HRC kept telling us the President had our back, when they knew he didn’t.

NOTE FROM JOHN: One final point. Things are so bad that even HRC has now felt the need to criticize the White House. You’ll recall that HRC has been defending the White House’s mis-steps on gay issues for over a year now.

Gibbs also laid the responsibility for whether a repeal vote is taken at the doorstep of Congress.

“The House and the Senate are obviously a different branch of government,” he added.

Smith took exception to the remarks from Gibbs.

“Those comments were not helpful and the White House needs to clarify that,” he said. “The president said he wants to work with Congress this year to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and we take the president at his word. But as we continue to put pressure on Congress, the White House needs to speak with one voice and not send us mixed messages.”

So yet again the White House is putting out the line that the President is weak and powerless, and has no influence with Congress. It’s not only pathetic that any employee of the White House would think it wise to spread the word that the President is weak, but it’s also a lie. And it’s one the White House, and frankly HRC, has been spreading for a while now. The notion that Congress passes laws, the President only executes them. It’s a cute high school civics approach to explaining how Washington works, it’s also incredibly naive.

As we saw with health care reform, when the President dithered for a good year, the reform effort spun out of control and the entire thing was almost lost. When the President finally got engaged, finally put the full force of his presidency behind lobbying for the bill, suddenly the bill became law. It is flat out wrong, a lie, to suggest that the President has no power to influence legislation. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you, or has no concept whatsoever of how Washington works.

That is why even HRC had to finally admit that Gibbs’ most recent statement was not helpful, and seemed to contradict the President’s earlier promise to work with Congress to get the law repealed this year.
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It’s astounding how badly this White House has f’d over our community.


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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