Rep. Skelton said he hears little from constituents on 'Don't ask, don't tell'

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) on Tuesday said people in his district didn’t bring up the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law during the Memorial Day recess.

“I was everywhere in my district, everywhere, and it just wasn’t raised,” Skelton said during a breakfast Tuesday with defense reporters.

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“There are other things on people’s minds, like jobs, the economy, agriculture,” he said.

Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, helped write the law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military, and voted against a House amendment to the 2011 defense authorization bill that would eventually lead to repeal.

The Senate Armed Services Committee included a similar provision in its version of the 2011 defense authorization bill. The final bill is months away from reaching the president’s desk for his signature.

Skelton strongly opposes repeal of the Clinton-era law and has made his position clear with voters. The 78-year old conservative Democrat, who usually breezes to reelection, faces a tough campaign this year. He is a GOP target and Republicans believe they can defeat the 17-term lawmaker.

Skelton crisscrossed his district visiting military institutions and coffee shops and heard “just a comment” from one constituent about "Don’t ask, don’t tell.' It was far from a challenging or critical question, he said.  

Skelton acknowledged that his political opponents could make it an issue even though the constituents in his rural and conservative district did not raise it this time around.

“I do not know what opponents may or may not do or say, “ he said. “I have no clue.”

Even before the House voted on the repeal provision, the Republicans vying to replace Skelton indicated that they consider making repeal of "Don’t ask, don’t tell" a part of their effort to oust the Missouri legislator.

Soon after the House voted on the defense authorization bill, Missouri House Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R) posted a statement on her Facebook page attacking Skelton for “not protecting the armed services” by not being able to defeat the House vote for repeal. 

“As with today’s critical vote, he is powerless to win important battles when needed most,” Hartzler wrote.  “American’s future military strength and national security will be compromised by his failure today.”

The House voted to pass the repeal amendment in a 234-194 vote.

Skelton voted against the amendment but voted for the final bill, which he managed and contains must-pass Pentagon policies and authorization for weapons systems funds as well as war funds.

As for the "Don't ask" repeal legislation, Skelton reiterated his position Tuesday: “I oppose it. Period.”

Under the legislation approved by the House and a Senate panel, the repeal would take place only after the Pentagon finishes a review of its implementation and President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen certify it can be achieved consistent with the military’s standards of readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruitment and retention.

Skelton dispelled the notion that the House leadership rushed to approve the repeal provision for fear there would not be enough supporters after the November midterm elections. The issue was "never mentioned," Skelton told reporters Tuesday.

Missouri's Republican primary is Aug. 3.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won Skelton’s district easily in the 2008 presidential contest, beating President Barack Obama 61-38.