Mullen Testimony On DADT Puts Senior Republicans In A Bind

Testimony on Tuesday by Adm. Mike Mullen that the time has come for the military to repeal its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy has forced the hand of many prominent Republican figures who stalled for time on the issue by saying the matter was up to the military itself.

GOP lawmakers have avoided taking a stand on the 15-year-old policy -- which bans gay service members from serving openly -- by deferring to the opinions of the military brass. This week, it became crystal clear where the brass stands, with Mullen, the current chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring that it is his "personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do" and Colin Powell -- the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman who was instrumental in writing DADT into law -- echoing those sentiments.

The spotlight, naturally, now turns to those who have used the military command as a crutch to defend their own skepticism.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in October 2009 that for a reversal of DADT to be successful, there would have to be a "buy-in by the military."

"They should be included in this," said Graham. "I am open-minded to what the military may suggest, but I can tell you, I'm not going to make policy based on a campaign rally."

Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a November 2007 debate was asked if he looked forward to "a day when gays can serve openly in the military?"

"I look forward to hearing from the military exactly what they believe is the right way to have the right kind of cohesion and support in our troops and I listen to what they have to say," he replied.

In another Republican presidential debate a month later, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee joined Romney in insisting that the country needed to hear first from military command.

"I probably would let the military make that decision," he said, when pressed. "One thing I don't think you need is a president who's trying to tell the military how to run the military, other than set broad policy agenda. The Uniform Code of Military Conduct is the best way to handle that and I would leave it to -- to those who run the military."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okl.) has insisted, as recently as 2009, that he would "defer in large part to our military leaders on matters of military readiness and code of conduct. This includes the impact changing the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy would have, especially since military leaders note that this issue is fundamentally about military readiness."

In a 2008 interview, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) defended DADT as a sound military policy by arguing that he had not "sensed that the military is calling for a change."

It is now.

The conundrum facing all of these Republican leaders is simple: coming out against the repeal of the DADT policy now would represent a de facto admission that the opinions of the military brass never really mattered in the first place.

But that doesn't mean they'll suddenly support the repeal. In fact, in a widely observed reversal yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that he was "disappointed" in Mullen's testimony, and expressed concerns that overturning DADT at a time of "immense hardship for our armed services" would be problematic.

This despite the fact that he once declared that: "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it."