Obama: ‘This is a very good day’

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

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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

Joe Lieberman blocks Senate Republicans’ last-ditch effort to kill DADT repeal

On the eve of Wednesday morning’s signing ceremony for the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Republicans in the Senate reportedly made a last-ditch effort to undercut the measure. Once again, though, it was Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman to the rescue, as he objected to — and blocked — a “poison pill” amendment proposed by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. Politico reports:

A last-ditch effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to complicate the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was blocked Tuesday night after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected, Senate aides said.

McConnell attempted to add an amendment to the so-called stripped-down defense authorization bill that would have required the consent of the military service chiefs to proceed with “don’t ask” repeal. Under legislation passed by the Senate last week, certifications are required from the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. All the incumbents in those positions support repeal.

“It was a McConnell proposal,” a GOP aide confirmed. “There was an attempted to get unanimous consent for it to be included in the defense bill and someone objected.”

—  John Wright

‘Mission Incomplete’ rally will call on Senate to remain in session until DADT is repealed

A bevvy of pro-repeal groups are teaming up for “Mission Incomplete,” a rally on Capitol Hill on Friday to call on the Senate to remain in session until it can consider the Defense Authorization bill, which includes an amendment that would end “don’t ask don’t tell.” According to the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is putting together the rally, other organizations who’ve signed on thus far are American Veterans for Equal Rights, the Equality Federation, Get Equal, the Human Rights Campaign, the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, Knights Out, MoveOn PAC, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, OutServe, PFLAG National, People For The America Way, PROMO Missouri, National Stonewall Democrats, Swish, VoteVets and Young Democrats of America.

Here’s a statement from SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis:

“We call upon the Senate and the President to remain in session and in Washington until the National Defense Authorization Act is passed — which includes the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask.’ The Senate is scheduled to break for holiday vacation; we can’t let them leave. We must show our rage for repeal and insist the Senate stay in Washington until they have finished the job. We implore all who support repeal to join us outside the Senate this Friday. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, ‘If not now, when?’

“The lame-duck vote on repeal was set up and dictated by some of the same Senators — like John McCain and Mitch McConnell — who are now delaying to kill the bill. They wanted the Pentagon report — now they have it. They wanted hearings — now they’re done. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he is determined to pass the defense bill with repeal. Senators must not be allowed to hide any longer behind process, procedure, and tax cuts for the wealthy, while the discrimination continues. We’ve lost 14,000 troops to this antiquated law, and by God, we must not lose another on our watch.

“More Americans than ever are with us in this moment. We have the Commander in Chief, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a majority of the service chiefs who support repeal. We know that 92 percent of service members are just fine working with their gay, lesbian and bisexual colleagues, according to the Pentagon report. Their attitudes mirror those of nearly 80 percent of Americans.

“With increased pressure — a raised voice — and help from our allies at this key moment, I believe the Senate will stay in session. We will hit 60 votes. We will fight back on attempts to kill repeal. We will send the bill to the President’s desk. The discharges will end. And gays and lesbians will keep serving this nation — but this time with the integrity they so deserve.”

For more info on the rally, go here. If you can’t make the rally but want to take action, go here. And to add your organization to the list of those supporting the rally, e-mail eas@sldn.org.

—  John Wright

All we want for Christmas is DADT repeal

Just wanted to pass along a significant update to our story on DADT repeal that appears in this week’s Dallas Voice: Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said Thursday that he believes supporters of repeal have the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican-led filibuster. The only question, it seems, is whether there will be enough time between the Thanksgiving recess and the end of the year to debate the Defense spending bill to which DADT repeal is attached. From The Advocate:

“I am confident that we have more than 60 votes prepared to take up the Defense authorization with the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if only there will be a guarantee of a fair and open amendment process, in other words, whether we’ll take enough time to do it,” Lieberman told reporters at a press conference, naming GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Richard Lugar as “Yes” votes. “Time is an inexcusable reason not to get this done.”

Lieberman noted that two items could be negotiated by Senate majority leader Harry Reid and minority leader Mitch McConnell – the number of amendments to be considered and the amount of time for debate on those amendments.

Full and open debate on the bill could take as many as two weeks but an agreement between Reid and McConnell might also shave that down to just one week. Regardless, given that other bills will also eat up some of the remaining days, providing some sort of open amendment process will likely require that Senators stay past the targeted adjournment date of Dec. 10 until at least Dec. 17.

Chris Geidner at Metro Weekly breaks down where Democrats are likely to get the four Republican votes needed to overcome an expected filibuster attempt led by Arizona Sen. John McCain.

And we may be getting a little ahead of ourselves, but what a wonderful holiday gift DADT repeal would be for the entire LGBT community, and especially for gay veterans and servicemembers. On the flip side, it will be a bitter pill to swallow if DADT repeal doesn’t happen because senators feel like going home or to the Bahamas. Will Lieberman’s Chanukah oil burn long enough to get the job done? Will Harry Reid be like a Mormon Santa Claus? Or will McCain just be the grinch?

—  John Wright

WATCH: A new message from Lady Gaga to the U.S. Senate on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

The video was apparently recorded Thursday night and posted early Friday morning on Lady Gaga’s official YouTube channel. Looks like she may have sent out this Tweet while recording the video:

Gaga addresses her 7 ½-minute video message to her fellow Americans, to the Senate and specifically to Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Jeff Sessions of Alabama. She notes that 14,000 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it was passed in 1993.

“In short, not only is the law unconstitutional, but it’s not even being properly or fairly enforced by the government,” Gaga says. “Our fight is a continuum of the ever-present equal rights movement. Every day we fight to abolish laws that harbor hatred and discriminate against all people, laws that infringe on our civil liberties.

“I am here to be a voice for my generation, not the generation of the senators who are voting, but for the youth of this country, the generation that is affected by this law and whose children will be affected,” Gaga says. “We are not asking you to agree with or approve the moral implications of homosexuality. We’re asking you to do your job, to protect the Constitution. As Majority Leader Harry Reid said, anyone who is willing to fight for this country should have the same civil opportunity to do so as anyone else. It’s my belief that no one person is more valuable than another.”

Gaga goes on to talk about some of the veterans discharged under DADT she’s met through the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

“The most shocking discovery for me was to hear them all say how much they miss serving and protecting our nation, how they joined the Armed Forces because they believe in America,” Gaga says. “Senators, when you’re sending your men and women into war, when you’re sending our wives, husbands, sons and daughters into combat, will you honor their service? Will you support repealing this law on Tuesday and pledge to them that no American’s life is more valuable than another?”

At the end of the video Gaga calls the Capitol Switchboard and asks for the office of Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York. After a dozen or so rings, she gets a busy signal. Then she tries Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, whose voice mailbox is full.

“I will not stop calling until I reach them and I can leave them this message,” Gaga says. “I am a constituent of the senator. My name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, also known as Lady Gaga. I’m calling to ask the senator to vote with Sens. Harry Reid and Carl Levin to repeal ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ and oppose John McCain’s shameless filibuster. We need to do this for our gay and lesbian soldiers and finally repeal ‘don’t ask don’t tell.’

“Try calling after 9 a.m. tomorrow morning,” Gaga says. “I’ll be on the phone, too. Thank you. God bless.”

The number for the Capitol switchb0ard is 202-224-3121.

—  John Wright

If Senate doesn’t vote on DADT repeal in September, it may not happen for several years

Both the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued action alerts Thursday warning that if the Senate doesn’t take up the National Defense Authorization Act soon, the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” will be in serious danger.

“If the defense budget bill doesn’t move to the Senate floor by the end of this month, DADT repeal may not happen for several more years,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said.

HRC on Thursday announced a National Call-In Day for DADT Repeal on Friday:

“While many believe repeal of this odious law is a foregone conclusion, the real truth is that this is not yet a done deal,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “If the more than 75 percent of fair-minded Americans who recognize this as a failed law do not speak up, a small group of Senators with their own narrow political agendas could win out.”

Congress returns Monday from their August recess and will have only several weeks of work before breaking again for the upcoming November elections.  Senate leaders have indicated that the defense bill — to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is attached — is on a list of possible bills on which they may vote.

“We’ve had to fight to the end for every victory we’ve won, and this is no different,” added Solmonese. “If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close.”

HRC will launch a full national action alert tomorrow encouraging members and supporters to contact their Senators immediately and ask that they push for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the next four weeks.

Here in Texas, we know that calling our senators is futile. As an alternative, SLDN suggests for everyone to call these key senators:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
(202) 224-3542

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
(202) 224-2541

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
(202) 224-2235

—  John Wright