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 the four Service Chiefs, General George W. Casey, Jr, U.S. Army, Admiral G. Roughead, U.S. Navy, General James F. Amos, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, General Norton A. Schwartz, U.S. Air Force, Admiral Robert J. Papp, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and General James E. Cartwright, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And let me thank our distinguished witnesses for their service to our nation. As Admiral Mullen noted yesterday, we have before us today a group of officers who, among them, represent more than 100 years of service and experience in our armed forces. I welcome them all this morning, and I am pleased that Admiral Papp and General Cartwright are joining us as well.
"As I said yesterday, we are considering in these hearings 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 that our military today is the most effective, most professional, and arguably the most experienced force 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 we ask 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Congress's duty to determine, is not can our armed forces implement a repeal of this law, but whether the law should be repealed.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. And let me say again just to be clear: I am not saying we should hold a referendum among our military on this issue and leave the decision in their hands. That is not how our system works, nor should it. What I am saying, and I repeat, is that leadership means knowing what your subordinates think, including on whether they think the current law in this case should be repealed or not. For that is 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.
"I appreciated hearing from Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, Mr. Johnson, and General Ham yesterday. All of these experienced public servants occupy leading positions within our military establishment, and their respective views all deserve careful consideration. The same is true of our witnesses today. The Service Chiefs are responsible for the training, organization, and administration of the men and women of their respective Services. It is their responsibility to recruit and retain the best personnel possible and to implement policies, consistent with the law, that produce fully trained, motivated, and disciplined troops for employment in military operations -- and at present, that means sustained, high-tempo combat. In short, it is the job of the Service Chiefs to ensure that our military is ready and able to win the nation's wars. As such, their views are especially relevant to the current debate.
"I have always said that I would listen to and fully consider the advice of our military regarding the potential repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' I did that yesterday. I will do that today. I will continue to do that. And anyone who alleges otherwise is disregarding the record. As we move forward with our discussion on this matter, I hope everyone will put aside political motives and agendas. I hope everyone, on both sides, will refrain from questioning people's integrity. And I hope everyone will recognize that this debate is focused not on broader social issues being debated in our society at large, but on our military and its effectiveness. On this matter, I look forward to hearing the views of our witnesses.
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman."