Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Obama Transition News

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Observer Update) - Some of President-elect Barack Obama’s early cabinet and staff appointments have good track records on LGBT issues, reported Lisa Keen of Bay Windows. The appointments are rolling out steadily now for the Obama administration. In some cases they have come in the form of actual announced appointments and in others they have been leaks to the media about presumably certain appointments. But so far, most sound like good news for the LGBT community.

Seven openly LGBT people are part of the transition team that is helping to prepare the president-elect to take charge of the federal government beginning January 20. Interestingly, five of them are former appointees of President Bill Clinton. The three appointments of greatest interest have been for Secretary of Health and Human Services, U.S. Attorney General, and the White House domestic policy adviser.

Former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, a long-time friend to the LGBT community, has been tapped to head HHS, though his appointment has not been formally announced. Daschle represented South Dakota in the U.S. Senate and, while considered friendly to Gay causes, did not score well on his last "scorecard" with the Human Rights Campaign. He earned only a 63 (out of a possible 100) in his last two years in the Senate. Daschle declined a request to co-sponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act of 2003. According to HRC, the bill would have enabled people with HIV to receive Medicaid and would enabled people with HIV and low incomes to receive state aid under the category of "categorically needy." He also declined a request to add sexual orientation to his Senate office non-discrimination policy, even though an earlier scorecard showed he did and in the scorecard for the previous two-year session, Daschle earned a 100 percent score.

In recent days, the Obama campaign’s transition website has stated that, "In the first year of his presidency, Barack Obama will develop and begin to implement a comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy that includes all federal agencies." And Daschle, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank headed by Obama’s transition chief John Podesta, is presumably onboard with that plan. President-elect Obama is reportedly planning to appoint former Deputy Attorney General (under Bill Clinton) Eric Holder as his U.S. Attorney General. Tracey Conaty, who for many years headed up a group documenting and seeking to prevent LGBT-related hate crimes in Washington, D.C., said Holder "clearly cared about the issue of hate crimes." "He was smart and informed about the law," said Conaty. "He was also very respectful, and you got the impression that he took these meetings with community folks seriously."

Though the position gets far less attention than cabinet positions, White House domestic policy adviser is a critical office to the LGBT community. The adviser makes recommendations to the president on a wide range of domestic issues, including many that can be of specific interest to Gays. The position became notorious under President Reagan, when he appointed ultra-conservative activist Gary Bauer to the spot. To that position, President-elect Obama has named Melody Barnes, a former top aide to U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, one of the most pro-Gay members of Congress in history. "She’s smart, sharp, solid - she totally gets the Gay and HIV issues," says Chai Feldblum, who worked with Kennedy in the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "I worked with her a lot in Kennedy’s office. I’m more excited about this appointment than just about anything."

Most familiar among the seven openly LGBT people serving on the transition team is Roberta Achtenberg, who served as assistant secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton. Achtenberg garnered more attention than most assistant secretaries when then-Senator Jesse Helms referred to her as "that damn Lesbian" and tried to block her confirmation.

Others on the transition team include Michael Guest, former Clinton ambassador to Romania; Fred Hochberg, former Clinton Small Business Administration leader; Elaine Kaplan, who headed Clinton’s Office of Special Counsel; Thomas Soto, who was appointed by Clinton to serve on an international commission involved in conservation efforts with Mexico; Rick Stamberger, president of an online Gay news collection website called SmartBrief; and Brad Kiley, a deputy assistant for administration at the Clinton White House. Kiley is one of 13 members of the transition team’s senior staff, serving as one of two directors of operations. He, along with Soto and Stamberger, are among 21 people on the "Executive Office of the President" team.

Achtenberg is one of 12 people on the HHS transition advisory team. Guest is one of 11 people on the Department of State segment of the "National Security Team." Kaplan is one of 10 people on the "Government Operations Team." Hochberg is one of 20 on the "Economics and International Trade Team."

While the others served under President Clinton, Stamberger was a White House fellow under then-Vice President George H.W. Bush, during the Reagan administration. The seven openly Gay appointees are among about 300 people named to help the Obama administration prepare to take the reins of the government starting January 20.

Gay leaders have taken note of the Obama transition website’s inclusion of the President-elect commitment’s to Gay civil rights issues. The Human Rights Campaign called it an "encouraging sign." Meanwhile, the Gay and Lesbian Leadership Institute reports having received more than 1,300 applications from LGBT people interested in seeking an appointment with the Obama administration. Spokesperson Denis Dison says the Institute groups are putting together their own "review teams" to examine the applications and "tease out applicants who are qualified." Dison says the Obama transition team is "aware of the project." ...

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Observer Update) - A member of Barack Obama’s transition team is denying media reports that the president-elect has decided to delay efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until 2010, reported the Washington Blade. An Obama transition team spokesperson, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the decision on how to approach repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which prohibits Gays from serving openly in the military, would be made after more experts have joined the Obama administration.

“These decisions will not be made before the full national security team is in place,” the spokesperson said. The Washington Times reported last week that two people who have advised Obama’s transition team said the president-elect “will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010” to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which Congress passed in 1993. Ending the ban was one of Obama’s campaign promises, although he said before his election that he would get the military on board with eliminating the law before taking action.

The Times article also quotes Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, saying that he thinks 2009 “is about foundation building and reaching consensus” and that he has held “informal discussions” with the Obama transition team on how the administration should proceed with the issue. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), said repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” may be further off and told the Blade earlier this month that “once Iraq is over,” Congress can eliminate the law.

But not everyone familiar with the issue has said that repealing the ban on open service would come later rather than sooner. Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of legislation that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” told CNN earlier this month that the administration would approve of such a bill next year. “The key here is to get bills that pass the House and the Senate, that we can get to President-elect Obama to sign, and I think that we can do that, certainly, the first year of the administration,” she said.

Retired Army Col. Stewart Bornhoft, who is Gay and a former commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said changing the law would require both “passion and preparation.” “Clearly, the passion for change is there,” he said. “But it requires proper preparation for the [Defense Department] to declare that they can implement open service successfully.”

However, Bornhoft said repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” should be attainable in the next Congress. “Whether that’s the first or second half of that period should be determined by the progress within the Pentagon’s thinking rather than an arbitrary calendar date,” he said.

Heather Sarver, a Lesbian and former Russian linguist for the Air Force who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2003, said she understands “the need to build support” for legislation repealing the law, but said “everyone who cares about this issue should hold specific members of Congress accountable for their support of the bill.” “What I fear is that Democrats have stated that they support repealing [the ban] in order to appease their Gay constituents and to say they support Gay issues without being in support of Gay marriage,” she said. “If they are sincere, then they will schedule meetings with other members of Congress and garner their support for repeal.”

Sarver said if lawmakers do not work on building support, their opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the election will be seen as “nothing more than a political chess move.” A Washington Post poll this summer found that 75 percent of Americans support allowing Gays to serve openly, compared to 45 percent in 1993.

No comments: