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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

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Location: Washington, DC

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BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Some congressional Democrats want to reverse key elements of a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance. We will talk about it with our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

A pilot startled and confused in the final seconds before his Continental Airlines flight crashed. Now we're learning about some critical details of his qualifications he didn't tell his employer.

And the Census Bureau faces a major challenge. How do you find people who don't want to be counted? Details of efforts to coax hundreds of thousands of people out of the shadows.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Pentagon is now taking steps to prepare for lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the United States military. The Defense secretary, Robert Gates, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee a year long study is now underway that will contain an implementation plan for when Congress repeals the law. The Joint Chiefs chairman, Admiral Mike Mullen, says lifting the ban is a matter of integrity and "the right thing do."

The number of service members discharged under "don't ask/don't tell" has generally declined over the last decade, while the U.S. Has been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The peak was back in 2001, when more than 1,200 men and women were discharged. Last year, the number was 428. In total, more than 13,000 men and women have been discharged under the policy since it was implemented back in 1993. Critics note that the number includes 730 deemed mission critical, plus 65 Arabic and Farsi language linguists or experts.

And joining us now to discuss the "don't ask/don't tell" policy, two members of the Congress, the Republican representative, Duncan Hunter, Jr. He's a reserve Marine, a freshman Congressman from California, holding the seat vacated by his father, the 14-term Congressman, Duncan L. Hunter. He opposes lifting the ban on gays serving openly in the military.

Also joining us, Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York State. She supports lifting the ban.

Thanks to both of you very much for coming in.

Congressman Hunter, why is it OK for the -- the militaries in Canada, Britain, France, most of the NATO allies, Israel, to allow gays to serve openly without any serious problems there, but not OK to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. Military?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA:

Well, the -- the main reason is we aren't Britain, France or -- or Canada or Israel. Their -- their military is much smaller than ours, it's much more specialized. We have a larger military. And I think that it would be detrimental to our -- our -- the entire force, our -- our cohesiveness if -- if we allowed homosexuals to serve openly.

But the -- the main answer is they aren't us, we aren't them. We're the -- the world's major military, its major police force, doing things like Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and -- and carrying the majority of the burden for most wars where we're in the right. And I think it's important that we maintain that status quo.

BLITZER: I'll get to Senator Gillibrand in a moment. But you don't think, for example, the Israelis have military issues similar to the issues the United States faces?

HUNTER: Yes, but the Israelis have mandatory service. And so that you have to go into the military in Israel. We have an all volunteer force. And...

BLITZER: But do they have a problem...

HUNTER: ...it's been that way.

BLITZER: ...as far as unit cohesion, because they allow gays to serve openly?

HUNTER: No. I don't -- I don't know, Wolf. But they don't have a choice, because it's all volunteer. They -- I mean it isn't volunteer, like -- like ours is. They -- they have mandatory service. So in Israel, it doesn't matter if you'd like it or not, whereas here, the recruiters are going to say, hey, it's -- it's hurting the recruiting because we -- we don't have as many kids who want to join because they've allowed homosexuals to -- to serve openly.

Israel doesn't have that. You -- you are actually forced to join the military in Israel. Two totally different situations.

BLITZER: All right.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Wolf...

BLITZER: Well, let's let Senator Gillibrand respond to that.

Go ahead, Senator.

GILLIBRAND: Well, in answer to your question, Admiral Mullen testified today that he has talked to the commanding officers of these other services for other countries. And, in fact, they have said they've experienced no undermining of morale or no less unit cohesion. And he brought out the point that I thought was very important, that we serve with these militaries, not only in Iraq, but Afghanistan. And our men and women serve with their men and women. And there's no problem in our ability to serve effectively.

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to that, Congressman?

HUNTER: Sure, Wolf. To -- to her last one, I was in Afghanistan serving with -- with NATO for six, seven months. I didn't run into any open homosexual men or women with -- with the Brits, Canadians, Germans, French, the other people that I served with over there. So it isn't like there's a bunch of open homosexuals serving all -- all over with Americans.

On the -- on the other point, Admiral Mullen and -- and Secretary Gates are both political appointees. They're going to be biased. They're going to say what the administration wants them to say.

What I want to talk to is the Marines Corps commandant. I want to talk to -- to -- to General Casey in -- in the Army. I want to see what the military leaders -- the actual service leaders have to say on this, because I think they'll have a much different take than the political appointees.

BLITZER: All right. Let me just hesitate for a second, Congressman Hunter.

Secretary Gates is certainly a political appointee named by the president, confirmed by the Senate.

But Admiral Mullen is a four star Navy admiral, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a career military officer.

You're saying he's a political appointee?

HUNTER: What I'm saying is his -- his -- his point of view -- and he stressed this today -- was his and his alone. It is not his -- his actual Joint Chiefs' point of view.

BLITZER: But you're saying he's biased.

HUNTER: I think we're going to hear something very different.

GILLIBRAND: Wolf, may I...

BLITZER: Are you -- are you saying...

GILLIBRAND: ...address this question?

BLITZER: Yes, hold on, Senator.

I just want to clarify what the Congressman is saying.

You're saying he's biased?

HUNTER: Oh, he is biased to the administration. Yes. I believe so. I think we...

BLITZER: All right...

HUNTER: ...you know (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.

HUNTER: We saw what happened with -- with General -- General Pace. I don't think he wants that to happen to him.

GILLIBRAND: In answer to your...

BLITZER: Go ahead. You're talking about Peter Pace, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

What happened to him, Congressman?

HUNTER: He was -- he was basically kicked out of the administration and -- and reprimanded for (INAUDIBLE) talking...

BLITZER: But that was during the Bush administration.

HUNTER: ...talking about this -- oh, true. It was during the Bush administration. But -- but still, he was -- he was pretty much reprimanded and his career ended because of -- of -- of words on -- on this particular subject.

GILLIBRAND: Well, Wolf, I...

BLITZER: All right.

GILLIBRAND: I'd like to address...

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.

GILLIBRAND: Wolf, I'd like to address some of the men and women who are serving in the military right now. You know, I have a project on my Web site, DADT Story Project. And I have men and women who have served in the military who told their own personal stories about why this policy is so corrosive.

And it was amplified by Admiral Mullen today when he said this is about integrity. And I have sergeants who are saying that it fundamentally undermines the integrity, not just their own integrity, where they're being forced to lie about something so important, about who they love, not being able to kiss their loved ones good-bye when they're -- when they're going off to serve; not being able to talk to their commanding officer or the men and women they serve with about the things that are most important to them; that it -- it's not only living a lie, but it undermines the integrity of their own being, but also the armed services.

BLITZER: Well, Senator...

GILLIBRAND: And those stories...

BLITZER: ...let me just press you on one of the arguments. Senator John McCain made it. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, made it, that the United States is now in the middle of two wars, a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan. This is not the time, they say, to raise this divisive -- divisive issue. It's better left to the sidelines. The "don't ask/don't tell" policy, they say, is working out just fine. Leave it alone.

GILLIBRAND: It's not working out just fine, Wolf. We've lost 16,000 personnel because of this policy -- more than 800 in mission critical areas, meaning we cannot easily replace them. We've lost 10 percent of our foreign language speakers, particularly in Farsi and Arabic, while we're desperately trying to fight terrorism and need those skills.

This has cost the military over $300 million in recruitment or replacement costs. We need all of our best and brightest serving now, with all of these skills, with all of this training.

And so I would challenge you now, when we have two wars, great recruitment needs and fighting terrorism on every front, we need all of our best and brightest in place. And we should not lose another soldier, another airman, another Marine, another Naval officer. We just cannot afford to lose some of these men and women.

HUNTER: If I may, Wolf, since 19...

BLITZER: Very quickly, Congressman.

HUNTER: Since 1999, over 1.96 people -- 1.96 -- 1.96 million people have been discharged. 0.5 percent of those have been discharged because of homosexual conduct. I was in the military, the Marines Corps, for three tours. It's going to hurt unit cohesion if we take this issue and we press this as a social experiment on the military right now when we have two big wars going on.

GILLIBRAND: I think you...

KING: Congressman Duncan Hunter...

GILLIBRAND: ...I...

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we're out of time. But I'd love to have both of you back to continue this debate because, obviously, it's not going away.

If you have a 10 second comment, Senator, go ahead.

GILLIBRAND: Well, I just want to thank Duncan for his service and his commitment and his sacrifices for our military. I served with your father on the Armed Services Committee on the House side. And so I am greatly appreciative of your service.

BLITZER: And we're going to have Senator Gillibrand back. And you've got a hot political race coming up this year. We'll talk politics the next time you're here, as well.

But a good, important discussion on a major issue facing the United States military right now.

Thanks to both of you for coming in.

HUNTER: Thanks, Wolf.

GILLIBRAND: Thank you.

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