Gibbs Faces DADT Questions

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com October 13 2010 2:30 PM ET

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs took a stream of questions about “don’t ask, don’t tell” at Wednesday morning’s off-camera press gaggle. What follows is a partial transcript.

(First Question)
Reporter: “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Apparently the administration will appeal the DOMA rulings. What are you going to do about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” on the grounds of the DOMA ruling that the administration always appeals laws that strike down or challenge existing laws that are on the -- or rulings that strike down existing --

Gibbs: Let me -- I’ve had a chance to talk to the president about this this morning. I’d refer you to Department of Justice on appeals and that sort of thing.

You’ve heard the president discuss this for several years, but I want to reiterate that the president strongly believes that this policy is unjust, that it is detrimental to our national security, and that it discriminates against those who are willing to die for their country. And the president strongly believes that it’s time for this policy to end.

As you know, the president has implemented a process with the Department of Defense, with the secretary of Defense, with Admiral Mullen and the other members of the Joint Chiefs to move forward in implementing an end to this policy in an orderly way.

The best way to end it is for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so that that end can be implemented in a fashion that’s consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars.

But absent that action, the president again has set up a process to end this policy. And I think the bottom line is, that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it’s time to act and end this policy, they’ve demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and that the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It’s not whether it will end, but the process by which it will end.

Reporter: Can the president simply instruct the Justice Department not to appeal this ruling?

Gibbs:
Again, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on some of the legal ruling questions.

Reporter: Is this the way he’s been reaching out, though, to Justice on this?

Gibbs: I assume counsel has been in contact with Justice and DOD since the ruling came out.

Reporter: The president has the final decision, right?

Gibbs: The president -- the president I believe does. Again, I will check with -- you should check with DOJ just in terms of, again, of filing decisions.

Reporter: I just mean from your conversation with the president, isn’t it clear to you that he has the final decision on this?

Gibbs: Well, again, the president -- and the president believes that it should end. We have to figure out an orderly way for it to end.

Reporter: But I mean the final decision on what to do in this particular case. He has the final decision there, right?

Gibbs: Again, I would talk to the counsel.

Reporter: On this subject -- as the commander in chief, is there anything he would want to say to -- let me preface this by saying the plaintiffs’ attorneys have said that gay and lesbian service members should not come out of the closet; they should exercise caution because who knows where this is going to end up. As the commander in chief, does the president have any message for service members who are gay and lesbian?

Gibbs: Let me -- because I know this has some pretty big implications, let me take that question and find out. I have not talked to the President specifically about that.

Reporter: OK.

Reporter: Robert, does the president have a timetable in terms of when he wants to see this abolished in this orderly fashion?

Gibbs: Well, the policy -- the Pentagon is to come back, I believe some time in December, having completed its review and evaluated its implementation policy.

Reporter: Robert, will you be able to come back at the briefing --

Gibbs: I don’t know if we’re going to brief later on today, but I will -- let me check on Jake’s question. And I probably will need to check with someone in the counsel’s office.

Reporter: Did you talk to the president about whether or not he thinks it’s constitutional?

Gibbs: The president believes the policy is unjust. The president believes that the policy discriminates against those, as I said earlier, that are willing to die for their country. The president believes that it’s --

Reporter: But constitutional? Which is a key question because if it’s -- I mean, if it’s not constitutional, then --

Gibbs: Yes, the president believes the policy should change, that it’s unjust, that it discriminates, and that it harms our national security.

Reporter: Have you ever asked him about whether or not he thinks it’s constitutional?

Gibbs: I have not. I have not.

Reporter: You kind of touched --

Reporter: It sounds like you’re talking just about sort of -- this is end-stage stuff here. But can we say that you think by year’s end, one way or another, this policy will be dead somehow?

Gibbs: I think that the courts have demonstrated that the time is ticking on the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Reporter: When does the time finish ticking? [Laughter]

Gibbs: Well, some of that my be determined ultimately by some courts, but I think it is -- and I want to be clear, the president was clear on this -- it is not whether but it’s the process of how.

Reporter: Robert, that Pentagon review that’s due back in December is to come up with a plan. There’s no particular -- the president hasn’t said the plan must complete by X date, right?

Gibbs: Not that I’m aware of. I can check with folks that have been working more closely with DOD on that.

Reporter: Is it the president’s understanding that as of this morning, the Pentagon is still moving ahead with any of the cases that are in the pipeline of forcing the discharge of --

Gibbs:
Ann, I didn’t talk to the president about that. That’s a -- that would be a legal question.

Reporter: I know. But is that -- I mean, he --

Gibbs: Look, again, let me ask -- I want to be careful on -- I want to be careful. I do not have a legal education. I do not want to answer legal questions.

Reporter: I’m just asking if it’s his understanding --

Gibbs: Right, well --

Reporter: -- that it’s still in the process --

Gibbs: His understanding would be important, but I want to make sure that what I say is consistent with what the lawyers -- how the lawyers view the law.

Reporter: Robert, is it safe to say that the president’s preference -- this is before we get into the lawyer stuff, and I suspect you have a secret legal degree anyway, but -- [laughter] --

Gibbs: How I wish.

Reporter:
Before we get to the lawyer stuff, is it the president’s preference to have -- to adopt whatever legal strategy is necessary to allow the military to come out with its report on this? So whatever legal strategy you take, will that be defined by the president’s desire to push this through to that process?

Gibbs: Let me -- I think I know what -- I think I understand your question. The president believes that, as I said a minute ago, that we need to have, consistent with our national security, to do this is an orderly fashion, ending a policy that he believes should be ended.

And that’s why we asked the House to end the policy. That’s why we want to Senate that didn’t act before the end to act in the defense authorization bill to end this policy.

Obviously it would be better to have all the branches of government aligned in how we do this. That would add the order -- some order to it that would make this easier to do.

Reporter:
But White House officials have said that the next two years are going to be a lot about executive actions that don’t involved Congress. Here’s the first opportunity -- are you going to take it?

Gibbs:
I don’t know what White House officials you speak of, Jonathan. I just illuminated for you exactly what the president of the United States, a senior White House official, told me not long ago. [Laughter]ROBERT GIBBS 1 X390 (GETTY) | ADVOCATE.COMLater in the gaggle…

Reporter: You mentioned the legal
implications of the “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Are there any political
implications, whether dampening enthusiasm in the LGBT community for
Democrats or putting pressure on conservative Democratic House members
at this point?

Gibbs: This is -- George, this is -- I started
working for then State Senator Barack Obama in April of 2004. And long
before I showed up, his position was “don’t ask, don’t tell” should end.
That’s been his position in that Senate race, as a United States
senator and as both a presidential candidate and now as the President
and Commander-in-Chief.

He took that position because he
believes, as I said earlier, that the policy is wrong and unjust, that
it unfairly discriminates against those who would sacrifice, who would
pay the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their country. And it harms our
national security.

He took that position based on that
belief, not on the politics of this or that.

Reporter: Right,
but I’m not asking you about him. He’s not on the ballot. I’m talking
about the impact on Democrats on the ballot of having it come from the
Senate right now, right before an election.

Gibbs: Again, I
think courts are demonstrating that the policy’s time has run out. That
is -- those don’t always conform to a pre-arranged political calendar.

Reporter: Can I follow on that, Robert? Can I follow on it?

Gibbs:
Sure.

Reporter: Okay, so you said that earlier -- that it would
be great if the -- obviously if the branches lined up, if they were in
alignment on this. But I mean, I think one of the things that George is
getting at is that there’s a lot of patience wearing thin within the
LGBT community. People feel like he could put a stop-loss on discharges
right now, that it’s within his legal authority since it’s a time of war
to do that. Why not do that when you have the courts saying it’s
unconstitutional but you have this legislative process making its way
through -- why not do that --

Gibbs: Well, I think what --
Kerry, what I think you forget or what you don’t mention in that
question is, the study and the implementation process that the
Department of Defense is going through -- and as the President mentioned
to me this morning -- it’s not about whether, but about the process of
how. That’s his belief.

First and foremost, it would be a legal
end to and a durable end to the policy through the changing of the law.
And that’s our hope that the Senate follows that lead of the House and
does so.

If it doesn’t, we’ll go from there. But underlying
all of this is a Pentagon that is looking through the implementation of
the end of this policy.

Reporter: So part of that is the
relationship between -- part of not doing that is the relationship
between the White House and the Pentagon and wanting to make sure that
you guys have had a sort of a process that you’ve agreed to?

Gibbs:
Well, we -- the President believes that the policy should end, and that
the ending of that policy should be done in a way that provides for a
swift but orderly transition to a policy that he believes is just, that
strengthens our national security and doesn’t discriminate.