WASHINGTON -- The stage has been formally set for the final, theatrical hearing over whether or not Congress will repeal the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy this year or even next year.
On Wednesday, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced that he will hold two days of hearings on the policy that restricts gays from serving openly in the armed forces. The hearings will come just days after a year-long report, commissioned by the Pentagon, will be released reportedly showing that DADT repeal would have a minimal impact on the temperament or readiness of fellow soldiers.
On Thursday, December 2, supporters of DADT repeal will be granted the first shot to make their case. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates; Admiral Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Jeh C. Johnson, the Department of Defense's General Counsel and co-chair of the Pentagon's DADT Comprehensive Review Working Group; and General Carter F. Ham, commander of the United States Army in Europe and the second co-chair of the Comprehensive Review Working Group will all deliver testimony.
They will be followed on Friday by a day of testimony from those generally skeptical of appeal, including General James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General George W. Casey, Jr., chief of staff of the Army; Admiral Gary Roughead, chief of Naval Operations; General James F. Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps; and General Norton A. Schwartz, chief of staff of the Air Force.
All told, it should be a dramatic two days of hearings and questioning, with particular attention being paid to those members of the Senate Armed Services Committee whose position on the policy is either vague (Sen. Susan Collins chief among them) or who've twisted themselves into pretzels attempting to hold up repeal (Sen. John McCain).
The betting money is that people will remain entrenched or even emboldened in their positions even after the hearings conclude. But what comes out of the Pentagon study and the subsequent testimony could give Democratic leadership the type of breathing room they need to keep DADT repeal inside the Defense Authorization Bill and, in turn, structure the debate so that Republicans no longer feel they can vote against it on procedural grounds.