“‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clearly isn’t working for our military, and it hinders national security and military readiness at a time when America is fighting in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs and deserves the best and the brightest who are willing to serve- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation. Discharging brave and talented servicemembers from our armed forces is contrary to the values that our military fights for and that our nation holds dear.” — Congressman Patrick J. Murphy
On Friday at Netroots Nation I had the pleasure of interviewing the main sponsor of the legislation to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (H.R. 1283, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act), Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-PA-6th). I asked him about whether we’ll be able to track public whip counts, Elaine Donnelly of the Center for Military Readiness and whether he expects her to represent the opposing viewpoint on the Hill again during hearings, and his commitment to get rid of a law that is affecting our national security. I also asked him about his opposition to a stop-loss order while Congress addresses repeal.
Transcript is below the fold.
Pam Spaulding: Introduce yourself…
Congressman Patrick Murphy: Sure, I’m Patrick Murphy from the 8th Congressional District of Pennsylvania. I’m wearing my 82nd Airborne pin; that’s the unit I served with in Baghdad six summers ago. (“183rd Eden”? -Louise)
Unfortunately, that’s where nineteen of my fellow paratroopers never made it home.
Pam Spaulding: And, what do you feel now that “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”, that you’ve sponsored to repeal this, how do you feel the debate is going to go?
CPM: I am very confident that as we lead the fight to repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy that we’re going to be successful. Successful getting it through the Congress and on the President’s desk, and President Obama has promised, has took an oath and said he will sign that piece of legislature to finally, after sixteen long years, repeal the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy.
I just came back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and I will tell you, so many troops grabbed me aside and said, “Hey Congressman, hey Patrick, keep fighting, because this policy is wrong and we need you to change it.”
PS: And you think that the leadership in the military is ready as well?
CPM: Well, you know, the military leadership takes an oath to support the Constitution and they takes their orders from the Commander-in-Chief. And if the CIC signs into law that we are repealing DADT, then the CIC says to his Secretary of Defense and his Chairman of his Joints Chief of Staff, which President Obama has already done, and says, “Guys, get ready to implement this thing, because it’s changing, because it’s coming from the Congress”- they will execute. They will salute sharply and execute the mission given to them.
And that is to make sure they respect people in our military, no matter what race they are, no matter what color they are, religion they are or sexual orientation they are.
PS: What do you say to people who think that the President should sign an executive order to try to stop the discharges while Congress handles the question of it?
CPM: And, listen, people have their opinions; that’s what America is about. I mean, my focus has been to repeal DADT. It was a law that was implemented by the Congress and needs to be repealed by the Congress. For those criticisms of President Obama, I look at history, and I taught this at West Point.
In the 1950s, when half of our country by the way was still segregated, our military was ahead of social change, and the president signed an executive order to repeal it (military segregation). But that executive order by President Truman wasn’t inconsistant with US law.
President Obama, unlike frankly President Bush, respects the political branch of government, President Obama respects US law. President Obama has gone to the Congress and to folks like myself and said, “Patrick, we need you to repeal DADT. I’m gonna sign it when you get it on my desk” and that is what my focus has been.
PS: Do you think it’s okay to have a public whip count, so people can see how things are going?
CPM: Yes, and that’s why I ask people to go on [“Let Them Serve”//www.letthemserve.com], that’s my website; again, [“Let Them Serve”//www.letthemserve.com]. Look at what the webcount is; look at who’s my co-sponsors.
I have[ 168 co-sponsors right now, and if your congressman or congresswoman isn’t on it//www.letthemserve.com/AboutMilitaryReadinessEnhanceAct.asp], I ask you please- call their office, email them, write them letters, write “letters to the editors”.
Why? It makes no sense, why we’ve kicked out over thirteen thousand troops– since we’ve implemented DADT. That’s over 3 and a half combat brigades, when our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretched so thin. Over 60 Arabic translators…
I tell ya, the senior leadership- folks like Colin Powell, who was one of the authors of the DADT policy, has even come and said now, “It’s time now to re-evaluate this thing. We need to change and repeal DADT.”
PS: And to think that felons, gang members and all are serving, while qualified personnel are being discharged, is a tragedy.
CPM: Yeah, and listen, I will say that our American men and women who serve our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and throughout the globe, they are our heroes and we need to support them. And we need to let all Americans serve and have respect for different upbringings, including someone’s sexual orientation.
PS: And what do you think, um, that during the next set of hearings, that people on the other side are going to present? After all, last time around, Elaine Donnelly testified quite candidly and humorously- it did not do the other side much justice.
CPM: Yeah, well, listen, I have respect for Ms. Donnelly. I don’t appreciate the fact that she now questions my military service and I don’t frankly appreciate the fact that she doesn’t think that the American soldier is as professional as the 26 other countries that allow their troops to serve openly.
But listen, that’s what America is America for; and she’s entitled to her opinion and her… even if I think that opinion is wrong. And um, I anticipate a strong fight from the forces of the status quo; I understand it, you know, but I didn’t come to Congress to be nice to everybody and just go along to get along. I came to Congress to make sure I fight for the values and principles I believe in and how I was raised, and where I think our country needs to go.
And where our country and our military needs to go is as a country that allows everybody to serve openly, as long as they can get the job done. And when I served in Baghdad six years ago, I will tell you that the paratroopers in the 82nd Airborne Division didn’t care what race, color, creed, sexual orientation someone was. They cared whether or not you could fire an M-4 assault rifle.
Could you kick down a door; could you get your job done, so we would all come home alive? That’s what they cared about, not what the other forces of the status quo care about.
PS: Thank you Congressman; I hope you catch your flight.
CPM: Thanks, Pam.
(Note from Louise [the transcriber): My thanks as well to Congressman Murphy and my apologies if I mangled some parts of this due to lack of military knowledge!)