Top Marine Lobs Bomb at Repeal’s Last Chance

On the same day that the US House of Representatives signaled it is prepared to work with the Senate on a stand-alone bill to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, General James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, stepped up his opposition to Congress moving now.

“Mistakes and inattention or distractions cost Marines lives,” he told Stars and Stripes, the independent military news outlet, in an interview published on December 14. “That’s the currency of this fight… I don’t want to lose any Marines to the distraction. I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [National Naval Medical Center, in Maryland] with no legs be the result of any type of distraction.”

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 3, three days after the release of a special Pentagon Working Group report showing generally positive attitudes toward repeal among active duty service members, Amos cited the higher levels of concern voiced among Marine combat units and said, “I cannot turn my back on the views of the troops.”

Still, he agreed with all the other service chiefs who testified that repeal could be handled, especially given commitments made a day earlier by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that they would not provide the certification required for implementing repeal until all significant concerns had been mitigated.

Amos’ more recent incendiary comments come at a crucial moment, when repeal in the near term faces its last chance.

On December 9, in a 57-40 nearly straight party-line vote, Senate Democratic leadership, for the second time, failed to achieve the 60-vote hurdle they needed to move forward on debate over the annual Pentagon appropriations bill that contains repeal language. That bill was passed by the House in May, but was stymied in the Senate in September.

Immediately after the December 9 vote, Connecticut’s Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman and Maine Republican Susan Collins, the only GOP senator who voted to move forward on debating the Defense Department funding measure, vowed to introduce a stand-alone bill to achieve repeal.

Advocates for repeal acknowledge that action is needed during the lame duck session since under Republican leadership next year, the House would not support repeal.

On December 13, the bill Lieberman and Collins promised was introduced with 40 co-sponsors. Supporters will once again face the task of finding 60 votes to overcome procedural objections, and Collins remains the only Republican publicly committed to the effort.

Despite those difficulties, the Human Rights Campaign hailed the bill’s introduction as a sign that “momentum” was “growing” for the Senate to take action.

On the morning of December 14, Pennsylvania Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy, who did the heavy lifting on getting the full Pentagon budget bill approved in May (and lost his seat last month), and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, introduced a free-standing repeal measure in the House, signaling that chamber’s commitment to working to button down the issue by year’s end.

Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, in a written release, said the bill “offers us a very good chance to get repeal.” Noting that more than 60 senators have indicated their support for ending the anti-gay policy, he concluded, “the problem becomes scheduling in the Senate and the need to pass several other important bills.”

However, several Republicans who endorsed repeal in the ten days since the Armed Services Committee hearings, such as Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against moving forward on the defense spending debate last week, effectively derailing repeal.

Two weeks ago, the Republican leadership sent Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid a letter signed by all 42 GOP senators indicating they would block efforts to move forward on major initiatives until the issue of extending the Bush era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest Americans, was resolved to their satisfaction. Though President Barack Obama negotiated an agreement with Republican leaders on that question, House Democrats remain resistant to the deal.

Repeal advocates wasted no time in taking on Amos for his December 14 comments.

“General Amos needs to fall in line and salute or resign now,” Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a written statement. “He implied that repeal will lead to Marines losing their legs in combat. Those fear tactics are not in the interest of any service member. The general’s goal is to kill repeal no matter the consequences, perhaps at the dereliction of his other duties.”

Sarvis pressed Obama to push back hard against Amos’ position, saying, “General Amos needs to stop lobbying against his commander-in-chief, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. If he cannot do that, the president should ask for his resignation.”

The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, however, declined to condemn Amos’ comments in response to questions from the Advocate, reported.

Asked if the president were concerned by Amos’ continued dissent, Gibbs said, “No, I mean, look, I think their views are very well known, just as the commander-in-chief’s views are very well known. I think if you look at the commander-in-chief, the head of the Pentagon, and the head of the Joint Chiefs, you’ll find unanimity in the belief that it’s time to do away with this policy.”