By Kerry Eleveld
Originally published on Advocate.com April 22 2010 9:00 AM ET
Multiple sources say that White House officials, during a February 1 meeting, were “noncommittal” about whether President Barack Obama would include a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in his defense authorization budget proposal.
As The Advocate reported Wednesday, an anonymous participant at the meeting between LGBT advocates and the administration said White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina totally “shut down” any notion that the president might recommend inclusion of repeal in this year’s defense funding bill, the best vehicle for attachment of such a measure.
But Robert Raben of the Raben Group refuted that version of events.
“That wasn’t the meeting I was at,” said Raben, who lobbies the White House on immigration reform, abortion, and Supreme Court nominees, and is also a paid strategist for the Human Rights Campaign. “The idea that Messina 'shut down' anything is not accurate. They were, if anything, frustratingly cautious about committing to anything.”
Raben said Messina relayed that advisers were still discussing various options with the president. He added that the main area of focus for the meeting was the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that would be taking place the next day with Defense secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen.
“That’s not to say I'm not frustrated,” he said of the White House’s disengagement on legislative action. “I feel like it would be fantastic if the president walked over to the senate and said, ‘Get this done.’”
Raben also noted that the dynamic isn’t unique to LGBT issues.
“It’s even more wrenching in the immigration context,” he said. “The president gave that a line in the State of the Union too. It’s April 22 — where’s the bill?”
Other sources who were also present at the meeting and spoke anonymously agreed with the recollection of Raben and the Human Rights Campaign’s David Smith, who said on Wednesday, “They were noncommittal about legislation in that meeting, but not definitively one way or the other.”
One source said, “Messina was purposely vague. He didn’t want to make any commitments.”