Is Rep. John McHugh refusing to give a straight answer on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell because he doesn’t have an opinion on the matter? Because he doesn’t want to stir up the military ranks? Because he doesn’t want to cross the Obama administration? Or because voicing support one way or the other could make his confirmation proceedings for Army secretary that much harder?
It’s likely McHugh, a Republican congressman from New York, is just falling in line with the White House. When McHugh’s name was announced as Obama’s pick for the job, Press Sec. Robert Gibbs claimed Obama and McHugh were in line with “changing” the policy. Just like Defense Sec. Robert Gates is growing softer on the issue at the direction of the White House.
When Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) asked yesterday, point blank, whether McHugh supported repealing DADT, he delivered what’s become a stock answer: whatever the president wants. Or, more accurately: “The reality is the president has made very clear, and I have not talked to the president directly, but I have talked to high officials in the administration, and I have no doubt the president is going to press forward with his intent to change that policy — to whatever degree remains to be seen. I think he would like a full reversal. … It’s also without question that Secretary Gates has begun a process of what he describes as ‘softening’ that policy; whatever that may mean remains to be seen.”
And then he hints at some more personal (albeit rehearsed) feelings (emphasis ours): “My view as secretary of the Army, if confirmed, would be to do the most effective job I could garnering the military input and information that I think any secretary and any president would like as they go forward in finalizing the determination. But having said that, there are two other factors: Whatever the decision of the president and the secretary of Defense, it would be my responsibility if confirmed, or any service secretary’s responsibility thereafter, to do the best job he/she could to come before this committee, the [House Armed Services Committee], or whichever other relevant committees may be afoot, to best describe or most effectively describe the reasons, the rationale, and the justification for whatever policy evolves. That’s the responsibility of a service secretary as I see it under Title X and at the end of the day I think it’s worth noting, of course, this is a policy embedded in law and there will be no overturning of it without the agreement of this Congress, the House, the Senate, and of course the president.“
It’s exactly the sort of statement you’d expect from a military man hoping to become the Army’s chief. But it’s also part of the problem we find ourselves in: We actually HAVE NO IDEA whether these folks actually do want to repeal DADT (but simply can’t say it so forcefully, or they risk offending Republicans and other top brass), or they’re just hedging their true feelings of wanting to keep the policy (but can’t contradict the White House’s official position).
And that’s a problem.
While we can push Congress and the White House to repeal DADT, it’s going to be the leadership from McHugh and his fellow military equals who determine just how far the armed forces go in treating gays as equals. Yes, halting investigations and dismissals of gay soldiers is the priority, but afterward troops will take direction from McHugh on whether anti-gay discrimination and harassment are still kosher.
Thus far, we have no idea whether McHugh will be a friend to equality in the military, or simply follow the president’s narrowest orders on not kicking gays out. Deciphering McHugh’s position is made all the more hard by his seemingly split positions on equality: In 2004 and 2006 he voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but also voted for workplace anti-discrimination legislation in 2007. In 1999, he voted for banning gay adoptions in Washington D.C.
So does the man’s record speak for his future actions? And if so, which parts do we consider more valid?