John McCain's Strange Dance on Don't Ask, Don't Tell

How repeal's supporter became its biggest opponent

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As Department of Defense leaders today convene for a Senate hearing on the Pentagon's recommendation to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), many observers are closely watching Senator John McCain. The Republican had long supported ending the controversial policy if the Pentagon agreed, but has recently changed his position. His shift in policy, and his outspoken opposition to repeal, have put him at the center of the political fight over DADT. Here's what people are saying about McCain's role, about his change in position, and about what it means for ending the policy.

  • McCain's Statement Today on DADT  Here are excerpts: "What I want to know, and what it is the Congress’s duty to determine, is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed. ... I am concerned about the impact of a rush to repeal. ... This is a complex and important issue that could have significant repercussions for our force."
  • McCain Disses Joint Chiefs Head  McCain earlier took a slap at Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen, who has been a leading proponent for repeal. "What was my personal opinion is now my professional opinion," Mullen said. "It's not just because our young warriors are more tolerant. It's because they have more important things to worry about." When asked about this, McCain replied, "In all due respect, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is not directly in charge of the troops." Today Mullen responds, "I have commanded three ships, a carrier battle group and two fleets. And I was most recently a service chair myself. For more than 40 years I have made decisions that affected and even risked the lives of young men and women."
  • McCain Increasingly Conflicts With Military  Daily Kos compiles McCain's statements on DADT since 2006, charting his gradual shift. "McCain and reality will clash again today during hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee. I suspect by the end of the day the above list will get a tad longer...and a lot nuttier."
  • Nothing Improper About Senate Oversight  Outside the Beltway's James Joyner pushes back on the criticism of McCain, though Joyner disagrees with the Senator's stance. "The Senate's role in legislating military policy is very much part of civilian control. ... McCain is certainly entitled to consider the opinions of the Marine commandant, other service chiefs, and commanders in the field. Or his own gut, the attitudes of his constituents, and all manner of other things. Maybe McCain is just playing politics here.  Maybe he honestly objects to changing the policy. Either way, that’s his prerogative as a United States Senator."
  • McCain's Call for 'More Time' Is Code for 'Don't Repeal'  The New York Times' David Herszenhorn explains that when McCain says he wants "more time" to look over the policy, he is probably trying to sign repeal's death sentence. "A delay in repealing the ban, however, would potentially decide the issue for years to come. House Republicans, who will take over the majority in January, have said they would not be interested in approving legislation to authorize repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. That means that Senate Democrats have only until the end of this month to approve legislation allowing a repeal."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.