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Political Notebook

House ‘don’t ask’ vote draws regret

Associated Press / May 31, 2010

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The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said yesterday he would have preferred that Congress had waited before voting to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ law that bans gays from serving openly in the military.

Admiral Mike Mullen did not directly criticize a House vote on Friday that marked a step toward repealing the ban. But he said it would have been better for lawmakers to wait until the Pentagon completed its review of how to make the repeal work. That study, due in December, is based on a current survey of troops and their families.

“Ideally, I would certainly have preferred that legislation not be brought forward in terms of the change until we are completed with that review,’’ Mullen said. He appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union’’ and “Fox News Sunday.’’

The legislation, he noted, gives the Pentagon until year’s end to finish its study and stipulates that he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Obama must certify that the military is prepared to make the change before the repeal takes effect.

There is worry among some in the military and in Congress that the House vote short-circuited the process of consulting with troops and their families.

“It is really critical to understand the points of view of those it will affect the most as we look at the implementation challenges, should the law change,’’ said Mullen, who favors lifting the ban.

“So we will complete that review and certainly incorporate what we learned from that into implementation when that time comes.’’

A senior defense official said on Friday that troops with concerns about the repeal are less willing to speak freely because the vote makes the outcome clear. The official, who is knowledgeable about the troop consultations, spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the Pentagon response.

Some troops feel double-crossed, the official said, because they had been told that nothing would happen quickly and were assured that the Pentagon would take their individual concerns into account. These misgivings about the political process have been aired over the past week at town-hall style events where troops are encouraged to share any doubts about repeal, the official said.

Senator Jim Webb said he was disturbed that the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member, voted on Thursday to repeal the ban. The full Senate is not expected to act for months. Webb, Democrat of Virginia, echoed Mullen’s concern about not allowing members of the military to express their views before Congress acted.

“I believe we had a process in place and to preempt it in some ways showed a disrespect for the people in the military,’’ Webb said on CNN’s “State of the Union.’’

Obama and family spend weekend in Chicago home
Good friends, good food, and the comforts of his own home. President Obama enjoyed all three when he brought his family home to Chicago for a long Memorial Day weekend. It was the family’s first sleepover at their red-brick home in more than a year.

Obama began yesterday with his customary workout at a private gym.

The president is due back at the White House today after paying respects to the nation’s war dead during Memorial Day observances at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Ill., south of Chicago.

Some veterans groups have criticized Obama, who has sent tens of thousands of troops into an escalated war in Afghanistan, for skipping the traditional wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Obama helped lay a wreath at Arlington last year, but this year handed the honor to Vice President Joe Biden.

Obama spoke at the Lincoln cemetery on Memorial Day in 2005.

Before taking office in January 2009, Obama expressed a desire to visit his $1.6 million home in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood about every six weeks. But the demands of the presidency have thwarted his intentions, including the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and a yearlong debate over health care — along with his daughters’ busy schedules.

Michelle Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha, Obama’s mother-in-law Marian Robinson, and family dog Bo arrived in Chicago on Thursday night. On Friday, Obama interrupted his getaway to visit the Louisiana coast for an update on efforts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf.