WASHINGTON – Senator Scott Brown this afternoon announced that he would support repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, providing key support for those who want the military to begin allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
The Massachusetts Republican, following two days of hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that he felt comfortable that top military brass would implement a new policy in a way that did not hinder the ongoing wartime efforts.
“I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on [Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’] recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed,” Brown said in a statement.
“I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes,” he added. “When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.”
Brown, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, could be a significant supporter for those who want to repeal the policy during the lame duck session. His aides made clear, though, that Brown would not support addressing a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” until the Senate first dealt with taxes and a federal budget.
Brown had previously not announced a position on the repeal, saying in May that he wanted to wait on a Pentagon study of how such a repeal would be implemented. That study came out this week, and found that ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would not harm long-term military effectiveness.
The House has passed a bill overturning the policy, but a Republican-led threat of a filibuster halted a similar effort in the Senate in the fall. Democrats are planning to call for a vote on the issue over the next few weeks.
During today’s hearings, where the top uniformed Army and Marines generals testified, Brown offered few hints on whether he would support the repeal. He said both that “there are very real concerns” about implementing social change during two wars, but also said it would “potentially be detrimental” if the courts forced more immediate changes.
At the time, he did not say definitively whether or not he would support the repeal, and would not answer questions from a reporter after he left.
During the hearing, one concern Brown seemed to have was on the implementation of a repeal, and he wanted assurances that top military officials would be able to phase it in first with troops who are not on front battlelines.
“The only issue that’s the important issue in my mind right now, while we’re fighting two wars, is the safety and security of our men and women who are serving,” he said. “Regardless of their sexual orientation, I want to make sure we give them the tools and resources to do their job and come home safely.”
“To implement social change in the middle of two battles…there are very real concerns,” he added.
He also laid out a scenario in which the troops located in the United States would be the first to undergo changes.
“And with the battle units, we’re going to leave them as is,” Brown said. “They have just too much on their plates, we’re going to leave them as is. But when they come home, we’re going to implement them, and get the training, give them the education, we’re going to work it through and we’re going to cycle it in.”
One other concern that Brown and others have is that, if Congress didn’t make changes, ongoing court cases could force something more immediate.
A group called the Log Cabin Republicans has also been challenging the issue in court, arguing that the policy is unconstitutional and violates First Amendment rights. A federal judge ruled in their favor in September, but the government is appealing the decision. A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled last month that the policy had to stay in place during the appeal process.
“I think it would potentially be detrimental to just all of the sudden, if the courts in fact do something like that, to just go overnight,” Brown said. “I think it would be exceedingly disruptive to the force. I’m basing that on everything I’ve learned, forgetting my personal opinion, but everything that you, with your 100-plus years, of testimony have indicated.”
While Brown’s support could prove crucial in the coming days, there could also be debate over how to implement a new policy.
During their testimony today, some of the top generals told the panel that repealing the policy could be divisive and difficult during wartime.
"I would not recommend going forward at this time, given everything that the Army has on its plate," Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told the committee.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos also warned that, while a repeal will likely come eventually, the military should be given time to prepare.
"My suspicions are that the law will be repealed," Amos said. "And all I'm asking is the opportunity to do that at a time and choosing when my Marines are not singularly tightly focused on what they're doing in a very deadly environment."
He added that "assimilating openly homosexual Marines into the tightly woven fabric of our combat units has strong potential for disruption at the small unit level, as it will no doubt divert leadership attention away from an almost singular focus of preparing units for combat."
Those arguments could play into the case put forward by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and other Republicans who are trying to block the repeal
Read Brown's complete statement below:
“I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes. When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.
“I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.”
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.