Pentagon to report “minimal risk” in rescinding DADT

The Pentagon has concluded its study on the impact that a repeal of the “don’t-ask, don’t-tell” policy would have on military readiness in the middle of two wars, and it comes as welcome news to the Obama White House and Democrats in Congress.  A leaked copy of a draft report indirectly accessed by the Washington Post shows that the Department of Defense will tell the administration that a full repeal and open service by gay and lesbian troops will only cause “minimal” risk and isolated incidents.  The report could clear the way for Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama to fulfill one campaign pledge while they still have the majorities in Congress:

A Pentagon study group has concluded that the military can lift the ban on gays serving openly in uniform with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts, according to two people familiar with a draft of the report, which is due to President Obama on Dec. 1.

More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey sent to active-duty and reserve troops over the summer said the effect of repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy would be positive, mixed or nonexistent, said two sources familiar with the document. The survey results led the report’s authors to conclude that objections to openly gay colleagues would drop once troops were able to live and serve alongside them.

One source, who has read the report in full, summarized its findings in a series of conversations this week. The source declined to state his position on whether to lift the ban, insisting it did not matter. He said he felt compelled to share the information out of concern that groups opposed to ending the ban would mischaracterize the findings. The long, detailed and nuanced report will almost certainly be used by opponents and supporters of repeal legislation to bolster their positions in what is likely to be a heated and partisan congressional debate.

The Marine Corps appears to have the highest level of objection to ending DADT, according to the Post’s report of the massive survey conducted by the Pentagon  But even there, only 40% of Marines objected or had significant concerns about ending the ban.  Across all branches of the service, it appears that the issue is less contentious than it is in the general public.

Will the full report, once published, push Congress into repeal?  It seems likely.  Nancy Pelosi needs a big win on something in the lame-duck session to keep her caucus in line behind her leadership after the midterms.  Obama has spent the last two years promising some progress to the LGBT community on their agenda, with nothing to show for it.  Although getting the Pentagon’s endorsement for ending DADT is likely to convince at least a few Republicans in the House and Senate — just after the GOP won its largest margin ever of the gay vote on Tuesday — it will be easier for Obama to get this done before Republicans control the agenda in the House.  For that matter, Democrats might find themselves in the awkward position of leaving a DADT repeal to a Republican-led Congress if they delay.

However, Democrats have a couple of problems in moving this before the New Year.  First, they have to pass a budget, a task which they punted to the lame-duck session in order to avoid the increases in spending that will surely come.  If they get involved in a food fight over DADT, they may run out of time to pass a budget, which will put Boehner in charge of FY2011 before getting his hands on FY2012, an outcome that would prove disastrous for Democratic interests and heighten questions about Pelosi’s leadership and strategy.  They also have to act on the tax hikes scheduled to hit at the end of the year, which looks as though will be another tough debate.  Also, Congress has to not only approve the repeal, but also the plan for the repeal, and that could take a significant amount of time even if Republicans support the repeal.

Either they will have to cave on the tax hikes or on the budget in order to get past what could be a lengthy debate over DADT, especially since the report won’t be due in full until December 1.  That leaves very little time on the legislative calendar for rushing this significant change through Congress.