On Thursday, a questioner at an MTV town hall meeting asked President Barack Obama why he does not take advantage of his executive powers to end “don’t ask, don’t tell” unilaterally. The president responded, “Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally. So this is not a situation in which with the stroke of a pen I can simply end the policy unilaterally. … I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there.”
Obama’s response was not entirely accurate. While it’s true, of course, that Congress enacted “don’t ask, don’t tell” into law in 1993, there are two ways in which the president could use executive authority to protect gay troops.
There may be reasons for him to decline to use his executive authority to suspend “don’t ask, don’t tell” via a stop-loss order, or to eliminate the law forever by deciding not to appeal the district court ruling. But it’s not entirely correct to say that he lacks such authority.