House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton said Tuesday that his constituents aren't interested one way or the other in the congressional drive to repeal the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but he's going to keep opposing it anyway.
During the congressional recess, Skelton toured his home state of Missouri, made numerous speaking appearances, met with several veterans groups, and only one person even mentioned it ... in passing.
"I was everywhere in my district, everywhere. It just wasn't raised," Skelton said. "There are other things on people's minds, like jobs and the economy."
Nevertheless, he pledged to continue to oppose repealing the 1993 legislative language, of which he was the original sponsor, despite the fact that a large majority of Congress has voted to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military. "I oppose it, period," he said.
Not only is Skelton not talking to his voters about his crusade to preserve the ban, he's not talking to the military people his committee represents, either.
"The only feedback I've gotten is from the secretary himself. I have not talked about it with folks in the military at length," he said.
So why is Skelton so determined to keep the law in place, above the objections of the White House, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, the House of Representatives, and the Senate Armed Services Committee? It's about the kids, apparently.
"What do mommas and daddies say to a seven-year-old child about this issue? I don't know," Skelton said. "I think it would be a family issue that would concern me the most ... What they might see in their discussions among the kids."
He also linked the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the administration's fight to end development of a second engine model for the F-35 fighter plane. Obama and Gates have promised to veto Skelton's defense policy bill if Congress insists on adding more than $400 million for the engine, which the military says it doesn't need.
If Obama wants to repeal the law, he won't want to follow through on his very clear threat to veto the bill over the fighter engine, Skelton suggested.
"It's rather interesting, because there's an item in the bill called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' that the president thinks keenly strong about. Now will he veto a bill that has that in it?," Skelton wondered aloud. "I'm sure that goes through the creases of his mind."
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.