Today, Barack Obama appeared at an MTV town hall (co-sponsored by BET and CTV), and there he was asked about why he did not just issue an executive order to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:
BRIDGET TODD: Hello Mr President
Obama: How are you?
BRIDGET TODD: I’m good thanks, how are you.
OBAMA: I’m doing great.
TODD: Good. My name is Bridget Todd, I’m from Richmond Virginia. I’m a faculty member at Howard University, I teach English.
OBAMA Are you? You look like a student.
TODD Thank you
OBAMA It’s true
TODD: I get that a lot
I voted for you in the last election based on your alleged commitment to equality for all Americans, gay and straight, and I wanted to know where you stood on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I know that you’ve mentioned that you want the Senate to repeal it before you do it yourself.
My question is — you as the President can sort of have an executive order that ends it once and for all as Harry Truman did for integration of the military in in 48. So I wonder, why don’t you do that if this is a policy that you are committed to ending?
OBAMA: First of all, I haven’t “mentioned” that I’m against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union Address, that I am against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and that we’re going to end this policy. That’s point number one. Point number two, the difference between my position right now and Harry Truman’s, is that Congress explicitly passed a law that took away the power of the executive branch to end this policy unilaterally. So this is not a situation in which, with the stroke of a pen, I can simply end the policy.
Now having said that, what I have been able to do is for the first time get the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff, Mike Mullen, to say he thinks the policy should end. The Secretary of Defense has said he recognizes that the policy needs to change. And we, I believe, have enough votes in the Senate to remove to go ahead and remove this constraint on me as the House has already done so that I can go ahead and end it.
Now we recently had a Supreme Court — a district court case — that said DADT is un constitutional. I agree with the basic principle that anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces, and make sacrifices on our behalf, on behalf of our national security, anybody should be able to serve. And they shouldn’t have to lie about who hey are in order to serve.
And so we are moving in the direction of ending this policy. It has to be done in a way that is orderly because we are involved in a war right now. But this is not a question of whether the policy will end. This policy will end, and it will end on my watch.
But I do have an obligation to make sure that I’m following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I have to work to make sure they are changed.
A couple of points:
1) The Senate voted on a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell less than a month ago. It failed, with Democrats Lincoln and Pryor joining with the Republicans in a filibuster. So, clearly, they don’t have the votes.
2) Last night, I was on a panel with Steve Hildebrand, former deputy manager of the Obama campaign. He said that “The White House applied no pressure on the Senate to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
3) Regarding the part about his inability to issue an executive order, Scarecrow says: “Nice theory, but then what exactly is the point of signing statements? If you believe you are bound by the literal meaning of passed legislation and cannot ignore portions you believe to be an unconstitutional infringement on executive powers, then there is not purpose served by such statements, yet you continue to sign them. Why?
4) As Cynthia Kouril points out, Obama now has an injunction to hide behind clarify the matter. But rather than comply, today the Justice Department said they will appeal.
5) After the Town Hall, Obama tweeted:
BarackObama Anybody who wants to serve in our armed forces and make sacrifices on our behalf should be able to. DADT will end & it will end on my watch.
At the very least, the President’s messaging on this issue is. . . confusing.