Fighting Back

As Rep. Patrick Murphy fights for DADT repeal, his own committee chairman, fellow Democratic Rep. Ike Skelton, is proving to be one of the roadblocks

by Chris Geidner
Published on May 5, 2010, 1:02pm | Comments

The difficulties of having a bill to repeal the ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy considered by a committee whose chairman said only in January that he is ''personally not for changing the law'' were on full display as Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) fought back against the chain of events set in motion by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) on April 28.

Asked whether Murphy knew that Skelton, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had sent a letter on April 28 to Defense Secretary Robert Gates asking for his views on legislative proposals addressing DADT, Murphy's communications director Sara Schaumburg replied via e-mail to Metro Weekly, ''No,'' adding, ''The Congressman learned about the letter through the press on Friday.''

Writing that Murphy ''disagree[s]'' with Skelton on this issue, Schaumburg wrote that Murphy – as the person leading the DADT repeal effort in the House – ''has spoken with the Speaker and with House leadership, where he reiterated the need to fully repeal this wrongful and discriminatory policy.''

As to the question of whether Skelton's opposition is leading him to take actions that are harmful to Murphy's repeal efforts – which are generally supported by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose office has said she expects a vote this year – Schaumburg wrote, ''Chairman Skelton is a good man who cares deeply about our military, but Congressman Murphy does disagree with him and feels strongly that the time has come to repeal 'Don't Ask Don't Tell.'''

In addition to the support of Pelosi and President Barack Obama, DADT repeal efforts are a part of the Democratic Party platform agreed to in 2008. The platform language reads, ''We will also put national security above divisive politics. More than 12,500 service men and women have been discharged on the basis of sexual orientation since the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy was implemented, at a cost of over $360 million. Many of those forced out had special skills in high demand, such as translators, engineers, and pilots. At a time when the military is having a tough time recruiting and retaining troops, it is wrong to deny our country the service of brave, qualified people. We support the repeal of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' and the implementation of policies to allow qualified men and women to serve openly regardless of sexual orientation.''

Despite that platform position of the Democratic Party, the chairman of the committee to consider repeal has long opposed it and was selected by his Democratic colleagues to lead the committee.

About Skelton's letter itself, Schaumburg wrote, ''Chairman Skelton is Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. He can send letters to anyone in the military, at any time for any reason. That's his prerogative.''

Regardless of his prerogative, Schaumburg added, ''Two dozen of our military allies – including Israel and Great Britain – allow their troops to serve openly, and Congressman Murphy firmly believes that 13,500 American servicemen and women get kicked out of the military simply for being gay is unacceptable.''

Taking to the netroots today to spread the word about his repeal efforts, Murphy will be taking questions from supporters of repeal later today in an online chat. At the Facebook event, he wrote, ''Please join me tomorrow, May 5, 2010 at 2 pm for a live blog chat on DailyKos.com to discuss the recent developments on my fight to repeal the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy.''

Asked about the request from Skelton's office, a spokesman for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said, ''That was just their thing,'' but added that Levin had no comment on the matter at this time.