House OKs standalone bill to repeal DADT

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 15 to approve a measure to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The vote was 250-175. It was the second time this year the House approved such a measure. In May, the vote was 232 to 180.

The measure will now go to the Senate where it is expected to reach the floor sometime next week.

“Today’s vote by the House of Representatives provides another resounding indication that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell can and should be repealed legislatively this year,” said a statement issued by several pro-repeal groups. “With this second vote in favor of repeal, the House joins our top military leaders, a super-majority of Americans, the President, and a 60-vote majority in the Senate in agreeing that it is time to give the Pentagon the power to carry out its carefully crafted plans for ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. With the Pentagon Working Group report in hand and the Secretary of Defense pleading for Congressional action, there is no more time for excuses — the Senate must follow the lead of the House and pass the bipartisan repeal legislation championed by Senators Lieberman and Collins before the end of the 111th Congress.”

Groups issuing the joint statement were the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the Human Rights Campaign, Log Cabin Republicans, Stonewall Democrats, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Servicemembers United and Third Way.

The House vote may have confused someone just tuning in to the debate because it appeared, on the surface, to be a debate about a small business bill. But that bill, which has been approved by both houses but not sent to conference, was gutted and language from a DADT repeal bill was inserted. This new language was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., as a standalone repeal bill Tuesday, as a way of encouraging and speeding up the passage of a similar standalone bill in the Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to the floor early in the debate to urge passage of the measure and cite polling data released Wednesday showing 8 out of 10 Americans support repeal.

“It is my hope to encourage the Senate to take this long overdue action,” said Pelosi.

Rep. Murphy, urging support for repeal, said, “Enough of the games. Enough of the politics. … This vote is about whether we’re going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so.”

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., controlled debate for Democrats and led with remarks saying, “The time to act is here.” Davis is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Change is never easy but it rarely is as necessary as it is today,” said Davis. “If we miss this opportunity to repeal this law, history will judge us poorly.”

Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., who will be the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee beginning in January, expressed “strong opposition” to the repeal measure. He lamented the committee was not being given an opportunity to hold its own hearing on the Dec. 1 report submitted by the Pentagon. The Senate Armed Services Committee held such a hearing on Dec. 2 and 3.

Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., urged voting against the repeal measure to provide the military with more time to “deal with this in their own way.”

Many of the Republicans who spoke lamented the fact that Congress has yet to pass the annual Defense Authorization bill, suggesting that debating the DADT repeal was somehow interfering with that bill. The irony, of course, was that Republicans in the Senate blocked consideration of the Defense Authorization bill, in large part because it included DADT repeal.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., called Republicans out on that, saying they’ve repeatedly blocked consideration of the defense bill. He also argued that it’s not servicemembers who are uneasy with the change, but Republican members of Congress.

Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., also spoke in favor of repeal, saying the current policy is un-American.

The Senate last week fell just three votes short of moving to consideration of the issue through the Defense Authorization bill, which includes repeal language. If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to bring it to the floor of the Senate in the next few days, it will still need 60 votes.

West Virginia activists and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network delivered 800 petitions to the offices of West Virginia’s new Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, on Wednesday, hoping to reverse his recent vote against consideration of DADT repeal. Manchin, the only Democrat to vote with Republicans to keep a filibuster going last week, said he voted no because he hadn’t had enough time to review the issue.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said last week she would have voted for cloture on the defense bill had she been in the chamber during the vote. And Sen. Scott Brown. R-Mass., has said he would vote for cloture after the Senate completes passage of a bill to extend tax cuts. Sen. Olympia Snow, R-Maine, also announced her support for DADT repeal on Wednesday.

The Senate on Wednesday passed the tax cut extension bill and then moved immediately to consideration of a new arms control treaty (START). Some are predicting the House will soon pass the tax cut bill, too, fulfilling a Republican Party demand that has prevented consideration of DADT repeal and other issues.

One troubling development for repeal — though not one that is expected to deliver much punch — was a statement Tuesday from U.S. Marine Corps Commandant James Amos. Amos told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that he thinks repeal threatens the lives of Marines in combat because a soldier’s being gay presents a “distraction” to Marines and “distractions cost Marines’ lives.”

“I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction,” said Amos. “I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [Army Hospital] with no legs.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement Wednesday night applauding the standalone repeal bill’s passage.

“Legislative repeal is supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Obama said. “The process contained in this legislation allows for a smooth and responsible repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in a way that maintains good order and discipline in our military ranks. Indeed, all of the Service Chiefs have said that when this law is changed , they will implement an orderly transition effectively and efficiently. As the comprehensive study by the Department of Defense clearly shows, we can move to a new policy in a responsible manner that ensures our military strength and our national security.”

© 2010 Keen News Service

—  John Wright

5 of the 12 House Democrats from Texas have failed to sign on as co-sponsors of ENDA

Cuellar, Green, Ortiz, Rodriguez voted in favor of 2007 bill

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, currently has 202 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The bill needs 216 votes to pass the House.

Five House Democrats who are uncommitted on ENDA — and haven’t signed on as co-sponsors — are from Texas. Four of those five voted in favor of ENDA in 2007, when the bill didn’t include gender identity.

HRC this week unveiled Countdown 2010, a grassroots initiative aimed at urging congressional action on both ENDA and  repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” And HRC listed Texas as one of the states where it will be focusing its efforts on ENDA.

This is a likely indication that HRC believes these five Democrats need to hear from their constituents about supporting a fully inclusive ENDA — and that they need to hear from them soon. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has promised a vote on ENDA by the end of the year.

With that, here are phone numbers for the Washington offices of the five House Democrats from Texas who haven’t signed on as ENDA co-sponsors. If you live in one of their districts, you may want to give them a call. You may also want to contact them via the Countdown 2010 website. All except for Chet Edwards voted in favor of ENDA in 2007.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (Laredo, Mission, Rio Grande City, San Antonio, Seguin): 202-225-1640

Rep. Chet Edwards (Waco, Bryan, Cleburne): 202-225-6105

Rep. Gene Green (Houston, Baytown): 202-225-1688

Rep. Solomon Ortiz (Corpus Christi, Brownsville): 202-225-7742

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (San Antonio, Eagle Pass, Fort Stockton, Del Rio): 202-225-4511

—  John Wright