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SGN EXCLUSIVE - Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) talks about DADT repeal
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SGN EXCLUSIVE - Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) talks about DADT repeal

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced - and then withdrew - an amendment to the 2010 Defense Department Appropriations Act which would have cut off funding to enforce the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell rule.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Hastings said, "Due to pressure from some of my Congressional colleagues and from the White House, I have withdrawn my amendment. I would, however, like to note that it is most unfortunate that we are not addressing Don't Ask, Don't Tell at this time. We should not be appropriating funds to enable qualified service members to be booted out just because they are honest about whom they are."

Hastings spoke with SGN by phone on Wednesday. Asked to name who in the White House pressured him, Hastings chuckled, "Well, it was not President Obama."

"Without getting into names," Hastings continued, "because there were many people at the table with my staff - I hate the term 'my staff' - let's say the young people I work with - the White House liaison here told us 'the time is not right.'"

According to Hastings, other Congress members got the same message. "Even as a member of the Rules Committee," he said, "I don't have the prerogative to make my amendment 'in order.' I withdrew the amendment to save my colleagues from the embarrassment of having to vote me out of order in the committee."

A similar effort in the US Senate failed last week. Sen Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) had proposed to add an 18-month moratorium on Don't Ask Don't Tell to the Senate version of the defense appropriations bill, but dropped the plan when she found she lacked the 60 votes necessary to advance the measure.

The Military Readiness Enhancement Act - a stand-alone bill to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell and introduce a policy of non-discrimination - has been introduced in the US House of Representatives, but not yet in the Senate. The main sponsor is Iraq war veteran Rep Patrick Murphy (D-PA). The bill now has 170 co-sponsors, including Hastings.

The same legislation was introduced in 2005 and 2007, but it failed to advance out of the House Armed Services Committee. Hastings' amendment was intended to facilitate passage of the repeal, by attaching it to a must-pass appropriations bill.

"I hope when you write your article you take into consideration one thing," Hastings told SGN. "Something I care very deeply about. These soldiers we're forcibly separating? Many, many of them have been critical mission specialists. Fifty-nine have been Arabic linguists. Nine have been Farsi specialists."

"This has negative impacts on national security," Hastings insists. "I'm a member of the Intelligence Committee. I've advocated for language experts long before 9/11!"

In June, Hastings was one of 77 members of the House who wrote to President Obama, urging him to suspend investigations and discharges under Don't Ask Don't Tell. Among the other signers were key Democratic leaders Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-FL).

"This makes me angry," Hastings says. "I have yet to receive a response. I'm elected by the same number of people as everyone else around here. I deserve the courtesy of a response. It's as bad as George Bush!"

Asked if he believes there is commitment on the part of Democratic congressional leaders to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell, Hastings says, "There's sentiment to do so. I wouldn't use the word you used. I haven't heard there's a commitment."

Asked when he sees the repeal coming, Hastings answers, "Next year. Next year, if it's going to be done by law. But the President doesn't need any cover. President Obama is the Commander in Chief. He can direct that they don't exercise the policy any more."

"All the polling data shows [repeal] is no problem. So why is there a problem?" Hastings asks.

Rep Hastings was elected to Congress in 1992. He is currently a Senior Democratic Whip and is considered an ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He sits on the powerful Rules Committee and on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

"I have some credibility on this," Hastings says. "I've advocated for civil rights and civil liberties for a long time. A long time."

Don't Ask Don't Tell was adopted by Congress in 1993, after President Clinton tried but failed to reverse the long-standing ban on military service by Gay men and Lesbians. At that time, Hastings voted to delete the Don't Ask Don't Tell provisions from the defense appropriations bill.

General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the main opponents of allowing open Gays and Lesbians to serve in the armed forces, has recently called for a "review" of the policy. Powell's successor as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General John Shalikashvili, has gone even further, calling for an outright repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell.

The current Chairman Adm. Mike Mullin said in his 2007 Senate confirmation hearing that since Congress made the rule, Congress would be the appropriate body to change it.

"I'd love to have Congress make its own decisions," Mullin concluded.

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