Alex Nicholson of Servicemembers United came into the studio to talk about what he sees as a "realistic" path to getting votes in Congress on"don't ask, don't tell" repeal over the next week or so (Full audio is below). We talked about the pressure that needs to come to bear, the letter from Defense Secretary Gates (to Congress, arguing for a repeal vote to be delayed until after his study is done) which he says "shocked" people into action and how LGBT groups have interacted with the White House on this issue.
Nicholson confirmed that he attended a February 1 meeting at the White House which the Human Rights Campaign attended,and his group has been closely tied to HRC. The larger and more outspoken and vocally critical LGBT lobbying group on the issue, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (whose executive director, Aubrey Sarvis, has been critical of the president's foot-dragging), was not invited to that meeting, a fact that was revealed during our LGBT Leadership Town Hall last month.
Nicholson confirmed that the White House's and Secretary Gates' message are one in the same, in terms of wanting to put off repeal until the DOD study is done and not wanting to include repeal in the Defense Authorization Bill. A lot of controversy had surrounded HRC regarding what was said to HRC and others in that Feb 1 meeting. Rather than sounding the alarm that the White House was not committed to repeal this year, HRC came out of that meeting still defending the president and confident that repeal would happen. HRC downplayed what was said at that meeting after it was reported on in April.Nicholson, however, said the outcome of the meeting should have been cause for alarm, that the White House has indicated,including at that February 1 meeting, it would be a "passive" supporter of repeal this year:
"Our sense in leaving the meeting was that it was going to be a difficult battle to get them to do what we wanted them to do, and that included putting repeal language in the [Defense] Authorization bill...I certainly left that meeting with the impression that they weren't going to help us.. I left with the impression, honestly, that there was still a realistic chance we could move them if we applied enough pressure...I still believe they were and are still susceptible to pressure, and that's where I've been disappointed in some elements of the community, that that pressure has not been applied."
Those "elements" pretty much are HRC, a group with which Nicholson's group has worked very closely and a group which he has previously refrained from criticizing.
"I'll say, honestly, first of all, that I don't think HRC has done everything they could have to put pressure the WH. I believe there are some there who believe they have done everything they can...I think there are others who may have other agendas and professional careers and things like that to worry about. I have been begging HRC to scale up their operations on don't ask, don't tell since early last summer...Realistically, I do think there was more they could do earlier this year, and I think there was more they could do last year...I would have loved to have seen the ramping up going on a year ago. You can't build the infrastructure...in a matter of two months...That needed to happen last summer."
We discussed a lot more, including what needs to happen now. Listen in.