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Push for 'Don't
Ask, Don't Tell' Review Gains Steam

Push for 'Don't
Ask, Don't Tell' Review Gains Steam

In the last week both Gen. Colin Powell and the Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, have gone on record about reviewing the military's gay ban, leading some D.C. insiders to conclude that the incoming administration has put the wheels in motion behind the scenes.

Back-to-back statements about the military's policy on gays from former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Colin Powell, and the present chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, have some LGBT activists guessing that more explicit directions have been given behind the scenes by the incoming President.

Powell's semantic shift from previously saying the military "can" review "don't ask, don't tell" to last week suggesting that it "should" do so was followed up by Tuesday's revelation that Mullen has had initial conversations with his top commanders about changing the policy, which would ultimately require congressional repeal.

"The president-elect's been pretty clear that he wants to address this issue," Mullen told The New York Times. "And so I am certainly mindful that at some point in time it could come."

Steve Ralls, who spent eight years as director of communications for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a group lobbying for repeal of the ban, said the dual statements leave "little doubt" that change is coming to the Pentagon.

"Military leaders like Powell and Mullen do not go on-the-record, or prepare for a significant policy change, without a green light from their commander-in-chief," Ralls said. "This could be the first indication that the incoming Obama administration has sent word to its highest personnel that their position and the position of their agencies must be clear and consistent with the president-elect's position on 'don't ask, don't tell.'"??Powell, who testified in favor of the policy when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs in 1993, has previously indicated that he was open to reconsidering the policy.

"You can review it, but I'm not prepared to say that you should do away with it until you have talked to the people who have to execute it and implement it -- the armed forces leadership," Powell said last July during an appearance at the Aspen Institute.

But last week Powell went so far as to urge a reevaluation of "don't ask, don't tell."

"We definitely should reevaluate it," Powell told CNN's Fareed Zakaria. "It's been 15 years, and attitudes have changed. And so I think it is time for the Congress, since it is their law, to have a full review of it. And I'm quite sure that's what President-elect Obama will want to do."

The slow but steady progress reflects a sentiment uttered two weeks ago by Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic political operative and former deputy campaign manager to John Kerry. Speaking at a December 5 political panel on gay issues, Elmendorf suggested that in order to overturn the ban President-elect Obama would have to gather his top generals in a room and in no uncertain terms tell them he wanted the policy repealed.

Asked whether these latest comments by Mullen and Powell evidence that such a meeting has already taken place, Elmendorf said, "I think the comments are a very positive sign that former and present military leaders are beginning to reflect the larger population's evolution on this issue."

Numerous polls in the last decade have shown that a solid majority of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, including an ABC-Washington Post poll last summer that put the number at 75%.

Though some reports have suggested that the Obama team wouldn't broach the issue until 2010, David Mixner, a longtime gay activist who avidly supported Bill Clinton's '92 candidacy and then broke with him when Clinton settled on "don't ask, don't tell" in 1993, disagrees.

"I don't think he'll wait till 2010 because of the midterm elections," Mixner said. "I think most people won't want to deal with that so close to the elections."

Mixner anticipated that the timeline for repeal would be closer to the end of 2009 and that it wouldn't be a stand-alone bill.

"I'm guessing that it will be toward the end of the next year, probably in a rider to an appropriations bill or a greater bill," he said. "They'll attach it as an amendment -- not as a separate piece of legislation, not with separate hearings -- and congress will just sail it through."

Mixner added that the administration would probably have Gen. Colin Powell and former Senator Sam Nunn, who chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1993 and was a strong proponent of the policy, in their court by then. Nunn has also advocated for reviewing the law within the last year.

"Obama's treated Nunn very well, has made him a respected counsel, so I think he'll take the bullet for Obama on this one," Mixner said.

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