McHugh Clears Committee, Says He Will Follow Orders on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

ALBANY—The Senate Armed Services Committee has adjourned its hearing on the confirmation of Representative John McHugh to be secretary of the Army.

Senators Chuck Schumer, who introduced McHugh, and Carl Levin, who chairs the committee, both said they look forward to a “swift” confirmation by the full Senate. It is entirely possible, sources in Washington say, for the confirmation vote to occur before the Senate adjourns on Aug. 7.

Once that happens, and McHugh officially resigns from Congress, David Paterson can call a special election to replace him.

It’s unclear whether Paterson will opt to do so (I asked his press aides about it this morning but they haven’t replied) or just wait until a general election. (Under election law, if a vacancy occurs before Sept. 20, it goes onto the general ballot on Nov. 3.) Either way, party chairs of the involved counties decide the candidates according to their own bylaws, since the period for circulating petitions has passed. There’s also a weird scenario where the “normal” process can be followed, but David Paterson can call a special election anyway.

The hearing went smoothly for McHugh. At one point, he was asked by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, for his thoughts on the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. He didn’t really take a position. Here’s what he said:

It’s a serious issue, and it’s an issue that has not been before me as a member of Congress since 1993. The reality is, the president has made very clear—and I have not had a chance, I have not talked to he president directly, but I have talked to high officials in the administration—that I have no doubt that the president is going to press forward with his intent to change that policy. To whatever degree remains to be seen; I think he’d like a full repeal. It’s also without question that Secretary Gates has begun the process of what he describes as softening that policy; whatever that may mean remains to be seen. My view as secretary of the Army, if confirmed, would be to do the most effective job I could garnering the military input and information that I think any secretary, and any president, would like as they go forward in finalizing a determination. That is what I described my envisioned role to the administration. They seemed content with that. But having said that, two other factors: Whatever the decision of the president and the secretary of defense it would be my responsibility, if confirmed, or any service secretary’s responsibility, to do the best job he or she could to come before this committee, HASC [House Armed Services Committee], whichever other relevant committees may be afoot, to best describe and most effectively describe the reason, the rationale and the justification for whatever policy evolves. That’s the responsibility of a service secretary as I see it under Title X, and at the end of the day, I think it’s worth noting that this is a policy embedded in the law, and there will be no overturning of it without the agreement of the Congress—the House and Senate—and of course the president.

McHugh Clears Committee, Says He Will Follow Orders on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell