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View From Washington 2010 Prep


This year got off to sort of a bang with the failed attack of the Christmas Day bomber and all the cleanup he left in his wake for the administration. Certainly the White House spent much of last week trying to restore confidence in its ability to keep America safe and tackle a new security threat from Yemen.

But when David Plouffe sent out an e-mail to Obama's Organizing for America network asking people to rate their priorities for the year, here's what was listed:

-health care
-financial regulation reform
-immigration reform
-other (fill in blank)

It was a fascinating list mainly because of two omissions: (1) national security, seemingly a top priority at the moment, wasn't included; (2) several of Obama's campaign promises were mentioned -- health care, the environment, immigration reform -- but not repealing "don't ask, don't tell," which is arguably one the most important ways to keep the military from robbing itself of talented, highly trained, productive soldiers.

In truth, Plouffe's e-mail suggests how the White House thinks about "don't ask, don't tell," which is that it really isn't a mainstream issue, it's a gay issue. But quite frankly, I'm having a hard time thinking of anything more mainstream than national security. Is there anything more damaging to our troops and intelligence-gathering than kicking out Arabic-speaking soldiers like Lt. Dan Choi?

One of the things happening the behind the scenes at the White House right now is the assembling of the president's overall budgetary goals and priorities for the entire federal government. Within that process, the administration will work hand in glove with the Department of Defense and other agencies to set their respective priorities. Then sometime between February and early April, the Defense Department will send its budget recommendations to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees. When that happens, the big question is whether repealing the gay ban will be included in those recommendations, which would significantly increase the prospects for ending the policy according to several very knowledgeable sources.

Of course, nothing is a sure thing, and surprisingly, the House Armed Services Committee may pose a slightly bigger challenge given its conservative leanings than some have anticipated, but if the Pentagon recommends ending DADT, then not including it the Defense funding bill that comes out of committee suddenly becomes a pointed disregard for what the military is indeed requesting. And most lawmakers are loath to tell the military how it run its operation.

Naturally, this is not the only way to repeal DADT. The measure could still be attached to the DOD bill during floor debate, or stand-alone bills could be passed (though none exists in the Senate).

But having repeal firmly placed in the bill that comes out of both committees would save a fair amount of messy political maneuvering as well as ensure that opponents would have to find the votes to strip out the measure rather than supporters having to wrangle the votes to add it.

So what would it take for the Pentagon to recommend repeal? Basically, a nod from the White House. Based on several conversations I've had, the leaders at the Pentagon -- meaning Defense secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chair Adm. Mike Mullen -- are prepared to implement the policy change if the commander in chief asks them to.

In the absence of serious resistance from leadership at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama has the best opportunity in 17 years to end a discriminatory policy that haunts the cohesion between gay and lesbian soldiers and their colleagues, mocks the military's honor code, and hamstrings our national security efforts.

"The Obama administration has known for a long time that they will never, and I mean never, have 60 votes in the Senate again," Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, recently told Fox News. "They will never, and I mean never, have a 40-seat majority in the House again. This is as good as it's ever going to get for them. They're going to get as much as they can get while they can get it."

The question is, Will the administration use that majority to ensure that the nation's gay and lesbian soldiers can be as true to themselves as they are their country?

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Kerry Eleveld