Senator McCain's Opening Statement at the Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) delivered the following opening statement at today's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing regarding the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law with Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, General Ham, and Mr. Johnson:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
"Let me also thank our distinguished witnesses for their service to our nation. I know that many people in our Defense Department and in our armed services devoted countless hours in the preparation of this report, especially General Ham and Mr. Johnson. I would like to thank them all for their hard work.
"Today's hearing will consider a complex, and often emotional subject -- the proposed repeal of the current law (commonly referred to as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell') -- which evokes strongly-held and legitimate differences of opinion among many Americans. It is no different among the U.S. military, as the Pentagon's report demonstrates.
"However, I think we can all agree on a few facts as we begin this important hearing. We can all agree that our military today is the most effective, most professional, and arguably the most experienced force that our nation has ever had. We can all agree that we appreciate and honor the service of every American who wears the uniform of our country, as well as their families, especially during this time of war, regardless of whether they are straight or gay. And finally, I think we can all agree -- and I certainly would -- that this capable, professional force of ours could implement a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell if ordered to, just as they so ably and honorably do everything else that is asked of them.
"What I want to know, and what it is the Congress's duty to determine, is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed. Unfortunately, that key issue was not the focus of this study. It is, however, the fundamental question that must be answered by Congress -- not by the President or the Courts, but by Congress. And it is a question that must be answered carefully, deliberately, and with proper consideration for the complexity of this issue and the gravity of the potential consequences for our military and the wars in which we are engaged.
"The Defense Department has had 10 months to complete this report and the RAND study that accompanies it. Together these reports and supporting documentation contain over 1,500 pages of data, material, and analysis. The members of this Committee received it 36 hours ago, and my staff and I are still going through it and analyzing it carefully, including the more than 72,000 comments that our service members provided to the working group.
"What I can say now, however, is that in addition to my concerns about what questions were not asked by this survey and considered in this report, I am troubled by the fact that this report only represents the input of 28 percent of the force who received the questionnaire. That is only six percent of the force at large. I find it hard to view that as a fully-representative sample set, but I am nonetheless weighing the contents of this report on their merits. What appears clear at this time is that the survey and anecdotal data underlying this report do not lead to one unequivocal conclusion, which is no surprise considering the complex and difficult nature of this issue.
"So, for example, I recognize that, of those surveyed who report having worked with a gay service member, 92 percent said their unit's ability to work together was not negatively affected. Among those in Army combat units, 89 percent of respondents felt that way, as did 84 percent of respondents in Marine combat units.
"However, we also learned that, of those surveyed, 30 percent of the total, 43 percent of Marines, 48 percent of Army combat units, and 58 percent of Marine combat units believe that a repeal of the law would have a negative or very negative impact on their units' ability to "work together to get the job done.' Furthermore, 67 percent of Marines and nearly 58 percent of Army soldiers in combat units believe that repeal of the law would have negative consequences on unit cohesion in a field environment or out at sea.
"This is supplemented by comments like these: "I believe this is not the time for us to make huge changes in the military. We are at war and our men and women overseas do not need any more distractions. This issue should be addressed at the appropriate time. That time is not now.'"
"I remain concerned as I have in the past and is demonstrated in this study, that the closer we get to service members in combat, the more we encounter concerns about whether "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' should be repealed, and what impact that would have on the ability of these units to perform their mission. These views should not be considered lightly, especially considering how much combat our force is facing. Additionally, I am concerned about the impact of a rush to repeal when even this survey has found that such a significant number of our service members feel that it would negatively impact military effectiveness.
"Mr. Chairman: As we move forward with our discussion on this matter, I hope that everyone will put aside political motives and agendas. I also hope that everyone, on both sides, will refrain from questioning people's integrity. Finally, I hope that everyone will recognize that this debate is focused on our military and its effectiveness, not on broader social issues being debated in our society at large.
"This is a complex and important issue that could have significant repercussions for our force -- a force that is engaged in its tenth straight year of sustained combat, but a force that is performing exceptionally well. At this time, we should be inherently cautious about making any changes that would affect our military, and what changes we do make should be the product of careful and deliberate consideration.
"I am not saying this law should never change. I am simply saying that it may be premature to make such a change at this time and in this manner, without further consideration of this report and further study of the issue by Congress -- for of all the people we serve, one of our highest responsibilities is to the men and women of our armed services, especially those risking their lives in combat."