Mullen told the committee it is his "personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do." Gates, while he did not get into his personal beliefs, said he supports President Obama's decision to repeal the policy and said the military was discussing "not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for" a repeal of the policy.
McCain cast their testimony as a disappointment, complaining of what he saw as efforts to push repeal by the military leaders "in many respects by fiat." He suggested their assessment was "clearly biased" about a policy that he believes to be effective.
The position seems to contrast with comments McCain made three years ago.
As the Washington Post notes, McCain said then that "the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, 'Senator, we ought to change the policy,' then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to."
Tuesday seemed to be that very day, yet McCain voiced a continued strong opposition to repeal.
McCain communications director Brooke Buchanan said McCain's posture did not amount to a shift in position, arguing that Mullen was speaking for himself and that Gates was simply towing the Obama administration's line.
"One person, speaking individually, not on behalf of the Navy at all, is not going to change Senator McCain's position," she told the Post. "There has to be a determination from our military leaders that they think it is a good idea to change the policy. Then of course Senator McCain will listen to them."