The President on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" at Youth Town Hall: "This Policy Will End"
Speaking at a town hall held jointly by MTV, BET, and CMT, the President took questions from a diverse audience of America’s youth, along with a few taken over the internet. It was easy to see how engaged they were with what was happening in our country, with penetrating questions on everything from the economy so many were making their way into for the first time, to college affordability, to the future of Social Security and the deficit.
The military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been in the news of late after a district court judge ruled it unconstitutional. The Justice Department is defending the statute, as it traditionally does when acts of Congress are challenged, but asked about the policy today he made clear that he continues to work with the military leadership and Congress to repeal this law. He once again affirmed that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a bad policy that harms our national security and undermines our military effectiveness because it requires the discharge of brave Americans who wish to serve this country honorably. Bridget Todd, a Howard University professor, asked the President why repeal of the military’s “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy has been so difficult:
Q I voted for you in the last elections 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 -- as Truman did for the integration of the military in ‘48. So I wonder why don’t you do that if this is a policy that you’re committed to ending.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I haven’t “mentioned” that I’m against “don’t ask, don’t ask” -- I have said very clearly, including in a State of the Union address, that I’m 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 was 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 a 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 Chiefs 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 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, “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional. 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 they 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 am following some of the rules. I can’t simply ignore laws that are out there. I’ve got to work to make sure that they are changed.