White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs studiously avoided weighing in on the legal debate erupting around Don't Ask Don't Tell on Wednesday, deflecting any questions about a recent court ruling invalidating the military's policy to the Justice Department.
But in an off-camera briefing to reporters, he hailed the ruling by US District Judge Virginia Phillips as further evidence that the law banning openly gay service in the ranks is in its last throes.
"I think that the courts have demonstrated that the time is ticking on the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell," said Gibbs. "It is not whether, but it is the process of how."
The press secretary would not address a specific question as to whether the president feels the law itself is unconstitutional -- a distinction that would ostensibly guide the Justice Department's thinking as to whether or not to appeal the decision. (The judge has halted the military's application of the law and, in doing so, formally allowed gay members to serve openly). Instead, Gibbs stressed that it is the White House's preference for Congress to act to end the policy.
"The president strongly believes that this policy is unjust, that it is detrimental to our national security, and that it discriminates against those who are willing to die for their county. And the president strongly believes that it's time for this policy to end," he said. "The best way to end it is for the Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives so that that end can be implemented in a fashion that is consistent with our obligations in fighting two wars.
"Absent that action, the president has again set up a process to end this policy. And I think the bottom line is that recent court rulings have demonstrated to Congress that it's time to act and end this policy; they demonstrated that time is running out on the policy of Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the bottom line is this is a policy that is going to end. It's not whether it is going to end but the process by which it is going to end."
Kicking the can down the road for the Defense Department's study (set to be released in December) has been the common White House response to DADT questions. It's also a posture that's caused a fair amount of anxiety within the gay rights community, which is wary that the troops are being granted a de facto veto over constitutional matters. But the tone from Gibbs was the most aggressive yet with respect to the DADT issue. And it reflects a recognition by the administration that the train is leaving the station whether or not the president is on board.