Thursday, May 14, 2009

President Obama and DADT

Andrew Sullivan wrote a dismayed post yesterday bemoaning the President's slow action on gay rights issues. Mickey Kaus, naturally, rejoiced, and Instapundit joined in on the fun. I think Sullivan's jumped the gun a little one this one, and of course Kaus and Instapundit are wrong too (shock!), but the question remains: why hasn't the President moved more quickly on some of the low-hanging fruit of gay rights issues, particularly Don't Ask, Don't Tell? 

You probably noticed recently when the Obama administration fired its first gay linguist because of DADT, and maybe you even saw the note the President wrote to Sandy Tsao, a second lieutenant who was discharged. In the note, Obama repeats his commitment to change the policy (a commitment which enjoys wide public support) - but when? 

I think, unfortunately, the answer is "not too soon." We're bearing down on what will be an intense summer for the Obama administration - the President recently pledged to have a national health care bill passed by the end of July, just around the same time when Congress will be holding confirmation hearings for Justice Souter's replacement. It is, to put it lightly, an important few months. Along with the stimulus package, these two battles are going to be the most important and consequential of the President's first year in office, and he'll need to spend a fair portion of his political capital (and employ those famous communication skills) in order to make things go smoothly. 

The crucial person here, as far as I can tell, is Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama Republican who became the ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Arlen Specter switched parties. Sessions passed over Sen. Chuck Grassley, who has more seniority but is currently the ranking minority member of the Finance Committee. The two of them made a deal for Sessions to give up his spot on Judiciary in 2011 so he can have Sen. Gregg's post on the Commerce Committee when Gregg retires. When this happens, Grassley would give up his seniority on Finance to become the ranking minority member on Judiciary. Why does all this inside-baseball dealing matter? 

Because Sessions is going to have a lot of power overseeing President Obama's SCOTUS nomination, and he's not exactly friendly to gay rights. His ascendancy to the top of Judiciary has the right excited, as reported in The Hill:
The move is likely to please conservative organizations around Washington who are gearing up for a fight over the eventual nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter. The departure of Specter, who had long been one of the leading GOP voices on judicial appointees, had robbed the Republican conference of an obvious spokesman.

Conservative groups, who have already held conference calls to begin organizing a response to President Obama's eventual nominee, were wary of putting Grassley atop the Judiciary Committee if a fight were to break out. The organizations viewed Sessions as the better spokesman, and more likely to lead the Republican charge in questioning the nominee.
That's it - the right is gearing up for a fight on the next Supreme Court nominee, and Sessions, as the ranking minority member on Judiciary, is a powerful guy all of a sudden. Sessions is on the record against repealing DADT, so the Obama administration isn't eager to pick a fight with him when there are big issues in the balance. It's just a theory of mine, but I bet we'll see action on repealing DADT in the fall, when the dust has settled on SCOTUS nominees and health care reform. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really? The First Ever Gay Linguist?