Mullen to give thoughts to Senate panel on 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed on Tuesday to provide senators with his thoughts on a controversial law prohibiting openly gay people from serving in the military.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) won a promise from Adm. Mike Mullen that he would provide his take on the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” before the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing this fall.

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In prepared answers for his confirmation to a second term as the nation’s top military officer, Mullen did not express any opinion on repealing the law. President Barack Obama promised to repeal the law during his campaign, and reiterated that vow earlier this year in a meeting with gay-rights activists at the White House.

Mullen repeated his previous position that “any change in the law would require sound policy revisions and leadership.”

“Like any significant overhaul of military personnel policy, we must carefully consider its impact on military readiness,” Mullen wrote in the prepared answers. “Whatever the decision, we will follow the law and remain focused on supporting our troops in — and preparing for — combat.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected later this fall to hold the first hearing in 16 years on the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" provision. The hearing will be held at the request of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) the chairman of the panel, told reporters on Tuesday that the hearing likely will be scheduled for October.

Gay activists have been growing increasingly impatient with the Pentagon and the White House for not overturning the law.

The leading organization pushing for repeal, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), rebuked Mullen’s written answers to the panel, calling them disappointing.

“Unfortunately, Mullen did not come to the Senate today to give a ringing endorsement of President Obama’s stated objective to end 'Don’t ask, don’t tell,' ” Aubrey Sarvis, the SLDN executive director, said in a written statement to The Hill. “There were no signs or words from [Mullen] showing that he is aligned with his commander in chief on repealing” the law.

In a YouTube podcast in August, Mullen was asked how the Pentagon is preparing for the possibility of making the policy change.

“I've had discussions with all the service chiefs on several occasions. I've actually also spoken with the combatant commanders, who certainly represent military leadership throughout the world at my most recent conference. I've had internal discussions on my own staff,” Mullen said.  “There's a lot of focus with respect to this right now, and certainly when the law changes — we get to that point — we'll carry out the law."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this summer said that he has asked the Pentagon’s general counsel to review the existing law to determine if there is any flexibility in how the law is applied. Gates said on June 30 that officials are “seeing if there’s a more humane way to apply the law until it gets changed.”

Several senators are in talks to introduce a bill repealing the law over the next couple of weeks. If a bipartisan approach does not work, several Democrats may sponsor the bill. The most likely candidates for that are Gillibrand and Udall. The bill likely will be introduced before the hearing in the Armed Services panel.