Reaction to the 'Don't ask' call

Other reactions to President Barack Obama’s call in his State of the Union address to end the law barring gays from serving openly in the military:

“When I was flying missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, I didn’t ask if my crew was black or white, gay or straight. If they’re willing to volunteer, then they should be able to serve and fight for their country.”— OIF/OEF veteran Rep. John Boccieri, D-Ohio

“You’re talking about a decision that’s going to revolutionize the military. To have this now, when the military is already strained, would really tax our forces.”— Army veteran Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.

“We very much need a sense of urgency to get this done in 2010. What is also needed is more attention and leadership to win repeal.”— Paul DeMiglio, spokesman for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network

“Voters are concerned about national security, and they don’t want America’s military to be used for any purpose other than national defense.”— Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness

“President Obama’s call to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ marks the beginning of a new era of equality and justice in America. The policy is an unfair, outdated measure that violates the civil rights of some of our bravest, most heroic men and women.”— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

“With America’s sons and daughters fighting two wars, I’ve seen no data that would convince me that changing the current law or the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy would make their jobs easier or improve overall military readiness.”— House Armed Services Ranking Member Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.

“The time has come to do this. [It was] a courageous thing to say and I hope the Joint Chiefs heard him.”— Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

“President Obama … acknowledged the many lesbian and gay servicemembers who serve honorably in our military, and wish to do so openly. We look forward to working with him on this issue of fundamental fairness.”—House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama spent only two sentences of his 7,000-plus word speech on the issue of gays in the military.

Whether that was too much or too little depends on whom you ask.

The message — “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.” — comes after a year of promises by the White House to overturn the 16-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law banning homosexuals from serving openly.

But so far neither Obama nor Democratic lawmakers have made any significant strides in repealing the law, and still face an uphill battle in making a change during an election year.

Next Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen will unveil to the Senate Armed Services Committee “an implementation plan” for repealing the law, according to defense officials. The leaders are also expected to testify on how the changes will affect the force.

On Wednesday, Republicans offered virtually no support for the president’s call to action, with only a few offering polite applause. Afterward, many were even more pointed in their opposition.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. and a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called “don’t ask, don’t tell” a strange priority for Obama given the larger issues facing the country.

“The president seems hellbent on forcing his social policy on the backs of our already overburdened troops,” he said.

Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, a former Army lawyer, called the timing inappropriate, and said he believes the policy is still supported by most in the military. Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of the most outspoken proponents of the policy, said simply that a repeal now would be “a mistake.”

On the other hand, gay rights groups were hoping to hear much more from the commander-in-chief on the issue.

Christopher Neff, deputy director of the gay-rights advocate Palm Center, said the path to repeal “will require both a command decision by the president and a clear timeline which follows.” The speech fell short in both those areas.

Supporters of a repeal are still hopeful it can be included in Congress’ mark-up of the 2011 defense authorization bill, the same legislative vehicle used to pass the law in 1993. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., has promised hearings on the issue next month and has discussed attaching it to the authorization bill.

Navigating the House will prove trickier. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said earlier this month he opposes changing the law while military operations remain at a high tempo.

Committee member Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said while she supports allowing gays to serve openly in the ranks, she doubts there is enough support within the committee to force Skelton’s hand. However, she said if the Senate includes the language in budget bills, the full House might approve the move.

Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., has collected 187 co-sponsors for his bill to drop “don’t ask, don’t tell” from the books, 31 short of a majority. But Murphy has said that other lawmakers have vowed to vote for a repeal if the issue comes up for a vote.

Veterans groups remain divided. Members of AMVETS recently adopted language backing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy until issues like housing allowances and benefits sharing for gay couples can be resolved. Officials from Wednesday called the repeal “a bold move” that’s “desperately needed to enhance our military readiness.”

Reporter Kevin Baron contributed to this story.

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