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Skelton Dares Obama to Veto Defense Bill With ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Second F-35 Engine

As I wrote last month, the House’s version of the defense bill has a provision that could jeopardize a hard-won effort to repeal the military’s ban on open gay service: a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet. Obama has publicly threatened to veto the bill because of the engine, a bête noire for his defense secretary, Robert Gates. But Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee who opposed the provision in the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and supports the engine, basically laughed off the veto threat today.

Here’s what Skelton told The Cable’s Josh Rogin:

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.”

Now, the Senate version of the bill doesn’t contain funding for the second engine of the plane. So the magic of the House-Senate conference could bring the bill to Obama’s desk without anything veto-provoking within it.

But that doesn’t answer the political calculation that Skelton is raising. If the bill comes to Obama’s desk with the engine money in it, what’s the priority? Keeping a promise to the gay community or keeping a promise to his defense secretary?

Meanwhile, here’s Rogin’s account of just why exactly Skelton opposed placing a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the defense bill. Was it to preserve Secretary Gates’ timetable for receiving the perspective of a Working Group he convened on how to repeal the ban before any legislative action, as many of the provision’s opponents desired? Apparently not:

“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.”

Uh, what? That sure sounds like bigotry. Maybe those mommas and daddies could tell their seven-year-olds to be thankful that any American wishes to serve his or her country in uniform.

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