White House issues odd statement on DADT, still refuses to call for repeal this year

An unnamed White House official sent us a statement today, which is supposed to rebut our report that the White House congressional liaison office is telling the Hill that they don’t want DADT repealed this year. We stand by our sources.

Here’s the White House’s rather odd statement, which was sent to me this afternoon. I’m only permitted to identify the source as a “White House official”:

“These rumors are blatantly false. The President has been clear in his desire to see Congress repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Department of Defense is already moving forward with its own review. The Office of Legislative Affairs continues to engage lawmakers, and at no time has the White House asked any Member to take this issue off the table.”

Where to begin? Let’s parse the statement:

1) An unnamed “White House official” would like us to believe that they’re really proud to be pushing DADT repeal this year. That’s why the official — or anybody else in the White House — isn’t willing to use their real name.

2) “The rumors are false.” That’s an assertion. Let’s look at the rest of what they have to say.

3) “The President has been clear in his desire to see Congress repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and the Department of Defense is already moving forward with its own review.”

The President has been as clear about repealing DADT as he has been about the public option. He pays lip service to a campaign promise, then does nothing to advance it, or worse, lets his staff undermine it behind the scenes (and we know they do.) First, let’s review what the President said in his State of the Union on January 27:

This year — 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. It’s the right thing to do.

So, we want to know: What exactly is the President doing to push for the repeal of DADT this year? And, unlike the White House, when we say “this year” we really mean “this year.”

No one can really point to anything concrete being done by the White House to make repeal happen this year. That’s why the unnamed White House official refused to include in their statement the magic words “this year.” The White House doesn’t want DADT repealed this year. It’s no longer much of a secret. Over the weekend, Rep. Barney Frank told Karen Ocamb that Obama isn’t really for repeal of DADT including the line, “the President’s refusal to call for repeal this year is a problem.” Yesterday, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the House was waiting word from the Pentagon on what to do (the Pentagon works for the President). On February 22nd, Robert Gibbs was asked by the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld, to simply say that they want DADT repealed this year. He wouldn’t. On March 25, even the Secretary of Defense said the White House agreed with him that there should be no legislative action until his study is completed. That’s expected to happen by December 1. Under that timeline, repeal won’t happen this year.

The evidence is clear, the White House is not interested in keeping its promise to our community this year. If it were, it wouldn’t be playing these games.

4) “The Office of Legislative Affairs continues to engage lawmakers, and at no time has the White House asked any Member to take this issue off the table.”

As a lawyer myself, that line is my favorite. Note that they don’t say that they’ve asked any lawmakers to actually pass DADT repeal this year. They say that they haven’t asked any Members of Congress to take the issue “off the table.” What exactly does that mean? Did you ask them to vote on it next year instead of this year – that wouldn’t be “off the table”? Did you ask them to vote on it this year at all? Are you doing anything to get Chairman Levin the votes he needs to pass the repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee?

And finally, if we’re to believe this obtuse quote from an unnamed White House official, then why doesn’t the President include the repeal of DADT in the DOD budget transmittals he’s currently sending to the House and Senate committees of jurisdiction? If we’re to believe that the President intends to keep his promise to repeal DADT this year, then the White House surely has indicated that in their budget to Congress, right?

No they haven’t. And they’re refusing to do it. We know that for a fact. That’s another thing that our groups were told months ago by senior White House officials. No inclusion in budget requests for the Defense Authorization bill, the bill the repeal needs to be in in order for it to survive the House and Senate.

Look, I can understand how the White House might think that a political ingenue, or someone simply whoring for an administration job, might say that this quote somehow proves that the President is all for repealing DADT this year. But, over my twenty years in Washington politics, and 17 years in national gay politics, I’ve always found it useful to closely read what the White House says, almost as if it’s a legal brief. Because no matter the administration, no matter the party, they choose their words carefully. There’s a reason that nothing in today’s statement from the White House indicates anything about repealing DADT this year. They don’t want it to happen, in spite of the President’s earlier, clear, and repeated promises to do just that.

The bottom line remains that Barney Frank, Chairman Levin, Steny Hoyer, SLDN, Servicemembers United, the Palm Center, and lots of other interested parties are all complaining about the lack of help they’re getting from the White House on this issue. We are on the verge of losing the opportunity to repeal DADT this year because of this White House and this President. And if we don’t get it this year, after the November congressional elections we may not get it for years to come.

If the White House thinks it’s a lie to say that they’re not on board, then there’s a really easy solution. Get a senior White House official, on the record, by name, to go public and tell us that President Obama wants to have the repeal legislation included in the Department of Defense authorization so that DADT is repealed this year. And, have Obama send that message to the Hill through his budget requests. Then, we’ll believe it. Otherwise, we’re sticking with our sources who have been consistently more reliable on LGBT issues than this White House or any of their apologists.

And in the meantime, maybe they can stop defending DADT in court.

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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