It didn’t take long for the Pentagon to try and assert itself in the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell debate. The New York Times reports:

Senior Pentagon officials said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had been in close discussions with Mr. Obama on the issue and would present the Pentagon’s initial plans for carrying out the new policy at a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Changing the policy requires an act of Congress, and the officials signaled that Mr. Gates would go slowly, and that repeal of the ban was not imminent. And it could be a hard sell for the president, even among Democrats; Representative Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, on Thursday restated his opposition to repealing the ban.

I think we can all expect by now the cautious approach from President Obama, but these are Pentagon officials talking about a policy that they admit is up to Congress (although, part of it is up to the President too – he could sign an executive order tomorrow stopping the discharges of gay and lesbian servicemen). This is a softer version of what the Joint Chiefs did to Clinton in 1993 – instead of publicly opposing the ban, they want to delay it to death.

The President needs to both cool the clear concerns from the Pentagon and find the votes in Congress (I think Patrick Murphy’s whip count in the House is at around 187 votes; the Senate doesn’t even have a co-sponsor for Murphy’s bill), as well as determine the strategy for how to put forward the legislation – as a stand-alone bill, or tucked into the defense authorization bill, which is must-pass.

John Aravosis is laying this on the President, saying that he put forward a real timeline and vowed to get this done this year. “If it doesn’t happen before the November congressional elections, I think things are going to be very ugly.” It may get ugly by Monday, when we see whether or not repeal is part of the military spending section of the budget.

David Dayen

David Dayen