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Obama Appoints Another Republican to Pentagon

Reports from Washington indicate President Obama will nominate Representative John McHugh, a Republican from upstate New York, as the nation’s next Secretary of the Army. McHugh currently serves as the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, the House panel with jurisdiction over legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” His selection as Secretary of the Army places a Republican with familiarity with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in an important advisory position to the Secretary of Defense, himself a Republican holdover from the previous administration.

Insight into how McHugh will advise Pentagon leadership on the debate to allow openly gay Americans to serve in the military is far from clear. While he is joining an Administration which has clearly stated its desire to see the ban on openly gay service members lifted, McHugh’s statements on the issue have urged caution.

During a 2008 Congressional hearing into legislation which would repeal the ban on openly gay military service, McHugh told fellow subcommittee members,

“I recognize the chairwoman’s longstanding desire to repeal [“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”], and I would hope she would commit to ensuring that no change would take place without a comprehensive and open debate on the full range of issues. We need active military input on the effects a change in policy would have at a time of war.”

Such statements place McHugh squarely in line with other Pentagon officials, including his new boss Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose approach seems to be — slow down the legislative process by calling for more hearing and studies to be conducted, and seek out the advice of senior military officials. This, despite the existance of numerous studies which already indicate allowing gays to serve openly would not harm the militay and that senior military officials are far more likely than younger service members to have personal biases against gays and lesbians.

What, if anything, McHugh’s appointment may mean for the future of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is unclear. Despite the fact that Pentagon officials have urged caution, the President has supported repeal. Still, Administration officials have been clear that the President believes efforts to lift the ban must originate in Congress.

On Capitol Hill, repeal legislation has languished in Congress despite the results of November’s election which increased Democrat majorities in both chambers. In the House of Representatives, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has the support of 149 members but has never progressed farther than subcommittee. In the Senate, no companion bill has yet to be introduced.

Congressional inaction means that whatever McHugh may have to say on the topic of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is clear that repeal is still a long way off.

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Victor Maldonado

Victor Maldonado