Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said Friday that he could support changing the military’s ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.
The senior senator from Virginia, with a background steeped in distinguished military service, said he would support repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” policy, provided there is “sensitivity” toward how change would be applied, particularly to combat units.
The announcement marked a shift from earlier in the year when Webb voted against repealing the policy.
In other news, Webb says he’ll make a decision on whether or not to run for reelection “in the first quarter of next year.” As was the case in December 2005 when I first met Webb, he continues to cite “the ‘incredibly difficult process’ of fundraising as one of the main issues affecting his decision.” And, he adds, “If I’m not going to run we need to make sure we have a strong candidate who can.” This should be interesting to watch…
UPDATE: A transcript of Sen. Webb’s WTOP comments is on the “flip.”
UPDATE #2: In other Webb-related news, check out this article on Webb’s criminal justice commission legislation.
Sen. Webb: Let me talk about where we are on this proposed policy change because I’ve been involved with my position on the Armed Services Committee and I think there are some misperceptions about what this might do as opposed to what it will do if it’s implemented effectively.
This question really is not about whether there would be or should be gays and lesbians in the military-they are already there-and it’s not a question about whether anyone should be able to engage in inappropriate conduct if this law is adjusted. It is about the fact that the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law has created sort of a “Solomonesque” environment inside the military.
We have had the Secretary of Defense-who served in the Air Force and who also instituted a non-discrimination policy when he was at the CIA-come forward strongly and say that he believes this can work. We’ve had the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs-who was a surface warfare officer who has served aboard all different types of ships and commanded fleets-say that he believes this should change. We’ve had the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who is a Marine, say that he believes this law should be changed. Most interestingly, Gen. Ham-who was an Army infantry officer, former enlisted, not an Academy graduate, who was the military person in charge of this extensive study, and who on religious grounds has difficulties with the notion of homosexuality-said that he believes that this change could take place and that it should.
When I first heard the testimony of Sec. Gates and Adm. Mullen last February when they were coming forward with a study, I said to them, “I want to make sure I’m hearing you right: you’re saying we need to do this thorough study before you actually recommend that this law be changed?” And they agreed. And I spent a lot of time working with that study. We got 160,000 responses. There have been different readings of it, and clearly, there are different reactions. We wanted to see that. I’ve spent a good bit of time making sure we could hear from the different services, from the different ranks, and from the different occupational specialties.
As you mentioned there were variations in terms of [the Chief’s] willingness to go along with this; the Marine Corps being the most hesitant. I asked Gen. Ham, “What is the percentage of the gays and lesbians in the military today?” He said it was about the same as in the general population-a little higher among the females, a little lower among the males-but about the same as the general population. So I asked the Chiefs, “Are any of you saying that, other than because of conduct, those people who are now in the military who are gay or lesbian should leave?” And not one of them said they should leave.
So the reality is that we are accepting the notion of gays and lesbians in the military, and the question becomes: what is the best way to protect the small units, which is what the Commandant of the Marine Corps is talking about in terms of cohesion, but also to allow people to live in an honest environment? And I think we need to make adjustments from the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy in order to do that.
Plotkin: Does that mean that you want the policy to change or should be exceptions in combat which are smaller units that have some affect on cohesion?
Sen. Webb: That’s exactly the question that I left with the Chiefs, and it goes to what they call the certification process here, where the Secretary of Defense will certify that the policy can be lifted. I asked the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the hearing, “Does that mean that you can certify with different units and in different time sequences in order to have this occur?” And he–as far as I’m going to interpret what he said–he agreed that you could do that.
There are units that are engaged right now in places in Afghanistan-there’s not going to be some magic wand waved over them saying now we’re going to take you guys out for sensitivity training. My understanding is that they’re going to do this in a very measured way, and if that is the case, then I will vote to go forward with this.
McConnell: Senator, are you saying essentially that you’re ready to vote for a change in Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell–
Plotkin: With the exception of combat units. It sounds like to me that you’re against the change of policy when it comes to combat units.
Sen. Webb: I believe that the certification process should take place with sensitivity toward the different challenges that they have, and I want to make sure that that is clear, and if it is clear, then I will vote to move forward with changing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.