Reid targets ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is pressing President Barack Obama to speed up the repeal of the controversial, "don’t ask, don’t tell," policy for gays in the military.

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On Thursday, Reid released two letters he recently sent on the subject, one to Obama and the other to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The letters say under the policy people with, "skill essential to winning our struggle against terrorism," are leaving the military under duress. "I do not believe we can afford to discharge any qualified individual who is willing to serve our country," Reid wrote in letters dated Sept. 24.

He urged Obama and Gates to make proposals to Congress to repeal the policy, implemented in 1993 as a means to get past outright bans on gays serving in the military. Obama and Gates have stated they want to repeal the policy, but haven’t yet made proposals to accomplish the goal.

"What we’re saying is, the President should either publicly endorse the repeal bill in the house or send up his own proposal on repeal," said Kevin Nix, spokesman for the Service Members Legal Defense Network, which represents Air Force Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, an 18-year veteran with 400 hours of combat experience as an F-15 fighter pilot.

Fehrenbach, who flew missions against Taliban and al-Qaida targets, is fighting against a pending discharge and hopes the policy repeal occurs in time for him to remain in the service, Nix said. Fehrenbach is one of two gay service members mentioned in Reid’s letters. West Point graduate 1st Lt. Daniel Choi, whom Reid recently met at the Las Vegas Human Rights Campaign Gala Dinner, is the other.

Reid urged Obama and Gates to review the cases of Choi and Fehrenbach.

In response to the letters, White House spokesman Adam Abrams said, "The President appreciates the Majority Leader’s letter and looks forward to working with him and other members of Congress as they move towards a legislative repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

Abrams wouldn’t elaborate when asked whether it meant Obama would seek to help Choi and Fehrenbach.

Other members of the Nevada congressional delegation weighed in on Reid’s letters.

Reps. Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley, both Democrats, both said they strongly support repealing the policy. Titus and Berkley are among 176 co-sponsors of a bill that would repeal the policy.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said he supports the current policy. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said any decision on the policy, "should be made carefully and with involvement and advice of our military commanders."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

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