Obama: ‘This is a very good day’

President signs bill to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

Click here to watch video of Obama’s speech
Click here for more reactions
Related story: Military will write rules on repeal of ban

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service

Following a dramatic and eloquent speech, President Barack Obama on Wednesday morning, Dec. 22 signed the legislation that will launch the repeal of a 17-year-old law that prohibits openly gay people from serving in the military.

“This is done,” he said, looking up and slapping his hand on the table, and the crowded auditorium of an Interior Department building in Washington, D.C., erupted with cheers and applause.

The historic ceremony took place less than 24 hours after Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took an 11th-hour action of trying to make implementation of repeal much more difficult and time-consuming.

According to a report on Politico.com, McConnell tried to introduce an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill that would have required that implementation of DADT repeal not take place until after the four service chiefs certify that it could be done without negative consequences for military readiness. The DADT repeal legislation that passed last week requires certification only by the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

According to Politico, McConnell attempted to add the amendment by unanimous consent, but Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a champion of the repeal measure, objected. Lieberman’s objection effectively blocked the amendment from being considered.

The president was greeted with a roar of cheers and applause after he was introduced by Vice President Joe Biden at 9:13 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday. As the president greeted many special guests on stage with him, the crowded began to chant, “Yes, we can,” a prominent slogan of Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. When the president reached the podium, he smiled and called back, “Yes, we did.”

“I am just overwhelmed,” said President Obama, beginning his prepared remarks. “This is a very good day, and I want to thank all of you, especially the people on this stage.”

He then told a story about a soldier who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Belgian mountains against the Germans in World War II. The soldier, Andy Lee, who put his own life in peril in order to scale a ravine and rescue a fellow soldier, Lloyd Corwin. Forty years later, Lee let Corwin know he was gay.

“He had no idea,” said President Obama of Corwin, “and didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what kept him alive.”

Obama also told the story of a young female servicemember who gave him a hug on a receiving line in Afghanistan several weeks ago, when the president made a visit to the troops. The woman whispered in his ear, “’Get ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ done,’” said the president. “And I said to her, ‘I promise you I will.’”

With the signing of the bill today, President Obama has also fulfilled a long-standing promise to the LGBT community overall, a feat that is prompting widespread praise, even from gay Republicans.

“He made this a priority,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans group, who a front row seat during Wednesday’s ceremony. “He was sincere and correct about making this a priority.”

As Obama shook hands with guests on the front row, Cooper said he told the president, “You said get me those [Republican] votes and I got more than you needed.”

In a critical procedural vote to force the repeal measure to the floor in the Senate on Saturday, six Republicans joined Democrats and Independents to provide more than the 60 votes necessary to break the Republican-led filibuster.

Cooper said the ceremony was a “very emotional” one in the auditorium and that “there were definitely many tears of joy” in his eyes and in the eyes of other former servicemembers discharged under the DADT policy during the past 17 years.

The president acknowledged the tenacious work of numerous individuals during Wednesday’s ceremony, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Patrick Murphy.

NBC News Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker, speaking on MSNBC shortly before the ceremony, said it was House Majority Whip Hoyer whose idea it was to take DADT repeal language out of the annual defense authorization bill — which was being filibustered by McConnell, Sen.  John McCain, R-Ariz., and most Republicans — and put it into a special standalone bill in the House last week.

The House passed that bill on Dec. 15 on a 250-175 vote and sent it immediately to the Senate, which approved it Dec. 18 on a 65 to 31 vote.

The president also singled out Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., in the front of the auditorium, for having “kept up the fight” in the House.

Speaking to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell Tuesday night, Frank characterized the congressional vote to repeal DADT as being “comparable to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

“It is an enormous move forward,” said Frank. Frank said he was moved by a special ceremony held on Capitol Hill on Tuesday by House Speaker Pelosi and Majority Whip Hoyer to sign the enrollment document for the bill to be sent to the president. The hundreds of people in attendance saying “God Bless America.”

“It was a very moving moment,” said Frank.

Also on stage for Wednesday’s ceremony was Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen and Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, an openly gay Marine from San Antonio who was the first servicemember wounded in the Iraq War.

The president used 15 pens to sign the legislation into law. It was not immediately known to whom those pens will be given.

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  John Wright

John Cornyn calls DADT repeal ‘a disgrace’

John Cornyn, shown wearing his favorite hat, is a disgrace to Texas.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn thinks it’s a disgrace that gay servicemembers will no longer have to lie about who they are. Cornyn, perhaps best known to the LGBT community for equating us to “box turtles,” further cemented his legacy as an anti-gay bigot when he twice voted against repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” today — then released the below statement calling the measure’s passage “a disgrace.” If there was ever any doubt that Cornyn was blatantly pandering when he accepted an award from Log Cabin Republicans earlier this year, it was thoroughly erased today. This man is not, nor will he ever be, our friend. Here’s his statement:

“With three of the four military service chiefs expressing clear reservations over the proposed repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, today’s vote shows blatant disregard for the opinions of those who know our military best. With our troops engaged in combat overseas, now is not the time to increase the level of stress on our Armed Forces through such a dramatic policy change. It is a disgrace that this latest item from the liberal legislative wish-list is being jammed through at the expense of military readiness.”

For the record, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also twice voted against DADT repeal today. Here’s her statement:

“After speaking with military personnel and former leaders of our armed services, I remain very concerned about how repealing this policy could negatively impact unit cohesion and overall troop readiness – especially during a time of war. Therefore, I did not support a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Supreme Court allows DADT to remain in effect pending government’s appeal

As expected, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday refused to prevent the military from enforcing “don’t ask don’t tell” during the government’s appeal of a ruling that declared the policy unconstitutional.

Here’s a statement in response to the high court’s ruling from Servicemembers United:

“It is unfortunate that an unconstitutional law that is causing substantial harm to military readiness and to tens of thousands of troops is allowed to remain in effect for even one more day,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and the only named veteran plaintiff in the case. “This just underscores the need to continue to put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow the defense authorization bill to come back up and take its first procedural step before the Senate’s Thanksgiving recess. Servicemembers United, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, Stonewall Democrats and the Log Cabin Republicans have all strongly and consistently called on Senator Reid to do just that. It is now time for other organizations, as well as the White House, to publicly do the same.”

Read more at Politico.

—  John Wright

Sen. John Cornyn calls Reid’s plan for vote on DADT repeal ‘cynical and politically transparent’

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn told The Hill on Tuesday that he believes Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to consider a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” as part of a defense spending bill  is “a cynical and politically transparent move.”

Cornyn didn’t say whether Republican senators plan to filibuster the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act over the DADT repeal provision, or whether he would join such a blockade.

“I know that leadership is asking members about their inclination, and I don’t know that that’s been whipped yet,” he told The Hill.

A spokesman for Cornyn, who’s never cast a single vote in support of LGBT equality, told Dallas Voice in June that he would oppose the DADT repeal measure.

“Sen. Cornyn believes that readiness must remain the highest priority of our military,” Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin said. “Right now, the Pentagon is studying how repealing DADT would affect military readiness, and this careful review is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Sen. Cornyn believes Congress should not to act on a possible repeal until that review has been completed.”

Cornyn has accepted an invitation to appear at the Log Cabin Republicans’ National Dinner in Washington later this month, and he has pledged to seek “common ground” with gay members of the GOP.

But if that common ground doesn’t include repealing a policy that 78 percent of Americans oppose, we’re at a loss as to where in hell it could possibly lie.

Actually, no we’re not. We’re pretty sure that by “common ground” Cornyn means “money” and “votes.” Talk about politically transparent!

—  John Wright

Lesbian seeks reinstatement to Air Force; DADT opponents hope for another big legal victory

GENE JOHNSON | Associated Press

SEATTLE — Opponents of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy against gays serving in the military were hoping for another major legal victory as a federal trial began Monday, Sept. 13 over whether to reinstate a lesbian flight nurse discharged from the Air Force Reserve.

The trial comes just days after a federal judge in California declared “don’t ask, don’t tell” an unconstitutional violation of the due process and free speech rights of gays and lesbians. While the ruling does not affect the legal issues in the case of former Maj. Margaret Witt, gay rights activists believe a victory — and her reinstatement — could help build momentum for repealing the policy.

“There’s already political momentum to do something to repeal this unfair statute,” said Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who is on Witt’s legal team. “Judicial opinions from multiple jurisdictions saying there’s a constitutional problem with this ought to encourage Congress to act more swiftly.”

Witt was a member of a squadron based at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma when she was suspended in 2004 and honorably discharged. She challenged the constitutionality of her dismissal, and a federal appeals court panel ruled in 2008 that the military could not discharge service members for being gay unless it proved that the firing furthered military readiness.

The case was sent back to U.S. District Court in Tacoma for Judge Robert Leighton to determine whether Witt’s firing met that standard. Several of Witt’s former colleagues are expected to testify that she was an excellent nurse, and it was her dismissal — not her sexual orientation — that caused morale problems in the unit.

Justice Department lawyers representing the Air Force note that the case has put them in the position of defending a law neither the president nor the department itself believes is good policy. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also favors repealing the 1993 law, which prohibits the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but allows the discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or are discovered to be engaging in homosexual activity.

Government lawyers nevertheless insist Witt’s firing was justified — and that the panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not know the extent of her conduct when it sided with her in 2008. That conduct included a long-term relationship with a civilian woman, an affair with a woman who was married at the time and two earlier relationships with fellow servicewomen, Witt acknowledged in a deposition in May.

It was a 2004 e-mail from the husband of the married woman to the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. John Jumper, that prompted the investigation into Witt’s sexuality.

Witt acknowledged the extramarital affair was not consistent with good “officership.” She also said she told two members of her unit about her orientation — forcing them to choose between loyalty to Witt and Air Force policy, the Air Force argues.

For those reasons, it says, Witt’s firing did further military goals, even if 19 current and former members of Witt’s unit have submitted declarations saying they had no problem serving with her.

“Those co-workers are not military commanders, and the military cannot operate by a unit referendum process in which disciplinary policies and outcomes are determined by the individual opinions of a few unit members,” Justice Department attorney Peter J. Phipps wrote in a court filing.

The Air Force also says Witt can’t be reinstated because she no longer meets Air Force nursing requirements, something Witt’s attorneys dispute.

Witt’s attorneys, led by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, say that it is the Air Force’s burden to prove that her reinstatement would be a detriment to unit cohesion. And, ACLU attorney Sarah Dunne says, the Air Force has provided no such evidence.

Gen. Charles E. Stenner Jr., an expert witness for the government, said in a deposition that he didn’t know if Witt’s reinstatement would negatively affect military functions, and the current commander of Witt’s unit, Col. Janette Moore-Harbert, acknowledged having no evidence to that effect.

The trial is expected to last seven days. Meanwhile, the Senate could take up a defense bill passed by the House that includes a provision to end “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

—  John Wright

House passes defense bill with DADT repeal attached

Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives  voted, 234 to 194, to approve an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly in the U.S. military. (Read our story here.)

This afternoon, the House voted to approve the defense bill in its entirety. The vote was 229 to 186.

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted last night to approve the same amendment to their version of the defense bill, but Republicans in the Senate have vowed to keep fighting the amendment when it comes to the Senate floor for a vote. They have said they will filibuster the whole defense bill to try and kill DADT repeal.

Even if the amendment passes in the Senate, too, the policy will not be immediately repealed, thanks to a compromise requiring implementation of the repeal to wait until the Pentagon completes a study on its impact — expected in December. Then the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would have to certify that the repeal wouldn’t hurt military readiness.

THEN, when all those hoops are jumped through, there would be a 60-day waiting period before the policy is actually repealed.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, while applauding the compromise that got the positive votes in the House and in the Senate committee, are warning closeted servicemembers not to come out because they can still be fired under DADT.

Read the warning at SLDN.org/StillAtRisk.

—  admin