Senate votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

John Wright  |  Online Editor

In a landmark victory for gay rights, the U.S. Senate gave final approval Saturday afternoon to a bill repealing the military’s 17-year-old ban on open service.

The bill, which passed the House earlier in the week, cleared the Senate by a margin of 65-31. It now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature before the process of implementing a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” can begin.

This morning, the Senate voted 63-33 to cut off debate on DADT repeal, a defining procedural move that virtually ensured the bill’s passage this afternoon. As expected, Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison both voted against advancing DADT repeal.

Six Republicans joined 45 Democrats and two Independents to provide the 60-vote supermajority needed to cut off debate. The six Republicans were Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois and George Voinovich of Ohio. No Democrats voted against advancing the bill, but Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., did not vote.

“This vote represents an historic step forward for this country, and it will very likely be a life-changing moment for gay and lesbian troops,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former multi-lingual Army interrogator who was discharged under DADT.

Nicholson added that while implementing DADT repeal will take some time, “those who defend our freedom while living in fear for their careers will finally breathe a sigh of relief tonight, and those who have fallen victim to this policy in years past will finally begin to see true closure and redemption on the horizon.”

Repealing the policy will mean that for the first time in this history of the U.S., gays, lesbians and bisexuals can serve openly in the military. More than 13,500 servicemembers have been discharged under DADT since it became law in 1993.

In the wake of the initial vote this morning, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to immediately suspend all investigations and discharges under DADT.

Under the bill, implementation of DADT repeal won’t begin until 60 days after Obama, Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that eliminating the policy won’t harm the military’s readiness.

“Until the President signs the bill, until there is certification, and until the 60-day Congressional period is over, no one should be investigated or discharged under this discriminatory law,” said SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis. “Even with this historic vote, service members must continue to serve in silence until repeal is final. Certification and the 60-day Congressional requirement must be wrapped up no later than the first quarter of 2011. The bottom line: for now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members must remain cautiously closeted.”

The Human Rights Campaign issued this statement:

“Today, America lived up to its highest ideals of freedom and equality. Congress recognized that all men and women have the right to openly serve their country,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Plenty of people had already planned the funeral for this legislation. Today, we pulled out a victory from what was almost certain defeat just a few days ago. We are grateful to President Obama, Majority Leader Reid and Sens. Lieberman, Collins and countless others for their dogged determination to repeal DADT.

“This has been a long fought battle, but this failed and discriminatory law will now be history,” added Solmonese. “Congress now joins the majority of our troops and the American public in the common sense belief that on the battlefield, it does not matter whether a service member is lesbian, gay or straight — what matters is that a service member gets the job done. The President can now fulfill his promise and sign this repeal legislation into law. After signing this legislation, we call on the President and Secretary of Defense to act expeditiously to complete the steps necessary to implement final repeal.”

—  John Wright

DADT update: Discharged vets file lawsuit; standalone repeal bill up to 40 sponsors

Mike Almy, a highly trained communications officer who served in the Air Force for 13 years, is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Three veterans discharged under “don’t ask don’t tell” filed a lawsuit earlier today against the government (read the filing here). The lawsuit brought by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network seeks reinstatement as well as a ruling declaring the 17-year-old policy unconstitutional and unenforceable anywhere. And needless to say, the lawsuit is aimed in large part at putting pressure on Congress to repeal the 17-year-old policy during the lame duck session. The Associated Press reports:

The legal action came four days after the U.S. Senate for the second time this year blocked a military spending bill that also would have repealed the 17-year-old ban on openly gay troops.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., have introduced a standalone measure, but it’s uncertain if it will be brought for a vote before the Senate and House adjourn for the holidays.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network director Aubrey Sarvis said the lawsuit was meant as a warning to lawmakers that if they don’t act to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the courts could step in and order an integration timetable that is less to the Pentagon’s liking.

“If the Senate fails to act in the lame duck session, we are prepared to litigate this aggressively,” said Sarvis, whose group coordinated the lawsuit and prepared it with lawyers from a private law firm.

“From my perspective, this is the first shot over the bow,” he said.

Meanwhile, the standalone bill that would repeal DADT now has 40 Senate co-sponsors, but only one of them is a Republican, and that’s Collins. A vote on the bill could come later this week or early next week, assuming the Senate sticks around that long.

We’ve contacted the offices of Texas Republican Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn to inquire about how they plan to vote on the bill, as if we don’t know already. But as of this post, we had received no response. Hey, anyone planning a sit-in?

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Senate blocks DADT repeal, but Collins, Lieberman to introduce stand-alone bill

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS AND VIDEO FROM THURSDAY NIGHT’S DADT RALLY ON CEDAR SPRINGS

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor

In a major blow to repeal efforts, Senate Republicans on Thursday afternoon blocked the Defense spending bill that includes an amendment that would end “don’t ask don’t tell.”

However, advocacy groups insisted that DADT repeal isn’t dead in the lame duck session despite the setback. A short time after the vote, senators who support DADT repeal said they plan to introduce a stand-alone measure to end the 17-year-old ban on open service.

The Senate voted 57-40 on a motion to proceed with the Defense bill, falling three votes short of the necessary 60, after negotiations apparently broke down between Majority Leader Harry Reid and key Republicans. Reid and other pro-repeal Democrats needed 60 votes to end a filibuster, but they were unable to reach a deal with Republicans concerning the rules for debate and amendments.

Reid blamed Republican opponents of repeal for stalling on the Defense bill in an effort to “run out the clock” on DADT repeal. He said every time he met their demands, they came back with something different.

“They want to block a vote on this issue [DADT repeal] at all costs even if it means we do not pass a Defense Authorization bill for the first time in 48 years, and even if it means our troops don’t get the funding and the protections they need,” Reid said. “In my effort to get this done, I don’t know how I could have been more reasonable. … It’s our troops that will pay the price for our inability to overcome partisan political posturing.”

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who supports a repeal of DADT but had said she would only vote to move forward on the Defense bill after the Senate addresses tax cuts, pleaded with Reid not to call for a cloture vote on the Defense bill Thursday.

“I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become a victim of politics,” Collins said during an exchange with Reid on the floor prior to the vote. “We should be able to do better, and Sen. [Joe] Lieberman and I have been bargaining in good faith with the majority leader. … I just want to say that I’m perplexed as to what has happened and why we’re not going forward in a constructive way that would lead to success.”

Despite her statement, Collins was the lone Republican to favor of Reid’s motion, but only after it was clear it didn’t have enough votes to pass. Other Republicans who’ve said they support DADT repeal, Scott Brown of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against Reid’s motion for cloture on the bill.

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also voted against the motion, but Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was absent for the vote. Cornyn has said he opposes DADT repeal.

Shortly after the vote, Collins and Lieberman announced they plan to introduce a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT, but prospects for the bill are unclear given that even if it passes the Senate, it will have to go to the House for approval, and time is running short.

“We support Sen. Lieberman’s plan to move a stand-alone bill,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading repeal advocacy group. “We also believe another viable option is the Continuing Resolution (CR) coming over from the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate and the president must remain in session and in Washington to find another path for repeal to get done in the lame-duck.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” in the Senate vote.

“Despite having the bipartisan support of a clear majority of Senators, a minority of Senators are standing in the way of the funding upon which our troops, veterans and military families depend,” Obama said. “This annual bill has been enacted each of the past 48 years, and our armed forces deserve nothing less this year.

“A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” the president said. “As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly gay or lesbian. A great majority of the American people agree. This law weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity and equality.

“I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill,” Obama added. “While today’s vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts. I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session.”

Earlier, after the vote, the Human Rights Campaign called on Obama to immediately halt discharges under DADT and stop defending the policy in court.

“The Senate’s apparent refusal to act on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal makes presidential action imperative in order for him to fulfill his state of the union promise,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “The only measure of success is an end to the discharges and anything less is unacceptable.

“In this time of war, we cannot sustain a policy that has already deprived our military of thousands of service members, many with critical skills in fighting terrorism,” said Solmonese. “Every day that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in force, Americans are losing out on the best and brightest service members defending our country. If Congress won’t act, it’s up to the President to clean up the mess they made when they enacted this discriminatory and unconstitutional law nearly two decades ago.”

ROLL CALL ON MOTION TO PROCEED WITH DEFENSE SPENDING BILL:

YEAs —57

Akaka (D-HI)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Coons (D-DE)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Specter (D-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

NAYs —40

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brown (R-MA)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kirk (R-IL)
Kyl (R-AZ)
LeMieux (R-FL)
Lugar (R-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Snowe (R-ME)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Wicker (R-MS)

Not Voting – 3

Brownback (R-KS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Lincoln (D-AR)

—  John Wright

UPDATED: DADT vote could come Thursday

UPDATE: We’ve posted a full story on today’s vote here.

The Defense Authorization Act containing a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” is one of three bills scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern time, or 10 a.m. Dallas time, on Thursday, according to a Senate calendar released Wednesday night. The first of the three bills scheduled for a cloture vote is the DREAM Act, which passed the House on Wednesday but is not believed to have enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. As for the Defense bill with DADT repeal attached, all eyes will be on Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, whose misgivings prompted Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a planned vote Wednesday evening. Read Collins’ statement from last night here. Below are the Senate orders for today via AmericaBlog:

∙The Senate will convene at 9:30am and proceed to consideration of the motion to proceed to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2010 (S.3992), with ten minutes reserved for Senator Durbin, and the remaining time until 11:00am equally divided and controlled between the two Leaders, or their designees.

∙At 11:00am, the Senate will proceed to a series of up to three roll call votes on the following:

o The motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2010 (S.3992).

o The motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847).

o Reconsideration of the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (S.3454).

UPDATE: As of 11:15 a.m. Dallas time, the Defense bill was on hold indefinitely as negotiations between Reid and Collins continued. However, the tax bill was expected to arrive on the Senate floor within an hour or so. The tax bill could delay consideration of the Defense bill, but it would also address one of Collins’ main concerns — that the tax bill be dealt with first.

—  John Wright

Statement from Sen. Collins on DADT repeal

Sen. Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, released the below statement Wednesday night on the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a vote earlier in the day on the Defense spending bill containing DADT repeal after Collins said she wasn’t ready to move forward. Collins represents the key Republican vote needed to overcome a filibuster of the Defense bill.

“Senator Joe Lieberman and I continue to negotiate in good faith with the Majority Leader to try and come up with a fair process under which the important Defense Authorization bill could be considered in the limited time remaining in this session. Without a fair process, the motion to proceed to the bill would likely fail in the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Lieberman and I requested a meeting with Senator Harry Reid last week during which we outlined a specific plan for allowing debate and amendments similar to how the Senate has considered the authorization bill in the past.

“It wasn’t until 1:35 pm today that I received a legitimate offer from Senator Reid, which I consider a good starting point. We made a counter offer which would provide sufficient time for debate, and includes protections to help ensure that Republicans would be able to offer a limited but fair number of amendments that are relevant to this legislation.

“I am encouraged that the Majority Leader decided to postpone the vote he had scheduled for tonight. I urged him to do this so that we could consider the tax legislation first, which I believe could be on the floor as early as tomorrow and completed quickly. At that point, I believe we could move immediately to the Defense Authorization bill under a fair agreement, and I would vote to do so. I would hope he carefully considers our proposal. I believe we have outlined a very clear path forward for the Majority Leader to take that would allow this very important debate to occur.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: No Senate vote on DADT tonight

The Senate will not vote tonight on the Defense spending bill that includes a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the previously scheduled vote after Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she’s not ready to proceed on the bill. Collins is one of the key Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Talking Points Memo reports:

Late this evening, per Collins’ request, Reid delayed a test vote he’d planned to hold tonight.

“Everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first,” Collins said.

Collins reminded Reid that Republicans don’t want to debate anything until the tax issue is resolved. “I have urged the majority leader to postpone the vote…so that we could get the tax bill considered first — which I believe could be on the floor tomorrow — and completed by Saturday, and then move immediately to the DOD bill, but under a fair agreement.”

Though Reid has backpedaled somewhat, he still plans to hold a vote later this week. Collins warns that any test vote before the tax cut issue is resolved will fail, even if he agrees to her terms.

“If we’re in the same situation that we are now, I don’t see how I could vote for it. But I’m obviously going to think further. But frankly they won’t get to 60 votes even if I did vote for it. So why not take the path that would lead to 60 votes”

The Washington Blade reports that the vote could come at any time on Thursday:

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said the decision to hold off on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill was made to allow for further discussions on the legislation.

“There’s a sense that we’re getting closer to working out an agreement,” Manley said. “Instead of having a vote tonight, we’ve temporarily postponed it until tomorrow as we try and see if we can reach an agreement.”

Pro-repeal groups are continuing to ask people to contact Senators and urge them to support repeal. To take action, go here.

—  John Wright

Military leaders urge Senate committee to pass DADT repeal

Most Republicans on Armed Services Committee appear resistant to passing DOD authorization that includes repeal of anti-gay ban in place since 1993

Lisa Keen  |  lisakeen@mac.com

Sen. John McClain and Sen. Susan Collins

The Pentagon’s top four leaders stood their ground Thursday, Dec. 2, during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s report concerning repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the 1993 law that keeps lesbians and gays from serving openly in the U.S. military.

But there was considerable pushback from Republicans on the committee — and not just John McCain.

A lot of important ground was covered, both technically, concerning certification and benefits, and personally, with top military officials making clear that they believe repeal is the right thing to do and that now is the right time to do it.

Important, too, were questions by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Republicans who, until recently, were considered potential votes to at least allow the Senate to debate the repeal measure.

Collins spent her time for questions laying out arguments to rebut criticisms made of the Pentagon’s report by McCain and others; and Graham seemed to have backed off his complaint last week that the study failed to investigate “whether” DADT should be repealed.

One of the chief criticisms hurled at the report by McCain and several other Republicans was that the Pentagon did not ask a direct question of the 400,000 troops surveyed to determine whether they would like Congress to repeal DADT.

Collins noted that the Pentagon does not ask troops whether they want to go to Iraq either and that, while troops were not asked about DADT repeal directly, their thinking was certainly conveyed by their responses to less direct questions.

The insistence, by McCain and others, that troops should have been polled on whether to keep DADT elicited the strongest rebuke from the military leaders themselves. Both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen repeatedly rejected the idea as “dangerous.”

Gates said that conducting a “referendum” on a matter of military policy “is a very dangerous path.” Mullen agreed, saying it would be an “incredibly bad precedent to essentially vote on a policy.”

McCain persisted, saying it was “not voting” on a policy, it was “asking their views.”

He was not alone. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said he, too, felt the Pentagon should have asked a direct question.

Both McCain and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., seemed to flirt with the use of some inflammatory tactics during the hearing.

McCain twice raised the issue of who was responsible for the current public release of classified documents by a website called Wikileaks — an act that is considered to be one of the most damaging breaches in intelligence confidentiality in American history. It has been widely reported that the 22-year-old Army private first-class who has been arrested for enabling the leaks, Bradley Manning, has identified himself as gay.

Chambliss noted that Mullen, in his opening statement both Thursday and at a previous hearing in February, indicated he had served alongside gay people and had gay people under his command. Chambliss asked questions to suggest that Mullen had failed to seek the discharge of these gay servicemembers as required by existing military policy at the time.

(Mullen, however, noted that military law and policy has changed during the course of his career in the service and that, in fact, “every single one” of the gays he knew of were discharged. “I did this, and I saw this,” said Mullen.)

What is the difference?

There was considerable discussion of how the repeal of DADT might mirror the changes that took place in the late 1940s and 1950s after then-President Harry Truman signed an executive order requiring integration, and again in the 1960s when Congress repealed a 2 percent cap on the number of women who could serve.

“Social changes in the military have not been particularly easy,” said Gates.

He said that “serious racial problems” plagued the military “at least through” the Vietnam War years, and that women in the military still face the very real problem of sexual assaults.

McCain pointed out that, in 1993, Gen. Colin Powell had opposed gays in the military and rebuffed attempts to compare discrimination based on race and that based on sexual orientation.

Jeh Johnson, the co-chair of the Pentagon study group, said he would agree that “issues of race and sexual orientation are fundamentally different.” But he said that, in his study of integration issues for the DADT report, he found that some of the nation’s greatest heroes in World War II “predicted negative consequences for unit cohesion if there was racial integration” of the troops.

Johnson, who is African-American, also noted that surveys of 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the 1940s found that opposition to racial integration ran as high as 80 percent — and that was at a time when there were only about 700,000 black soldiers in a force of 8 million troops.

It was also a time, said Johnson, when integration was not accepted by society at large.

“But we did it. It took some time. It was not without incident,” said Johnson. “But we did it and, I think the chairman said, the military was stronger as a result.”

In fact, Johnson said the opposition to racial integration then was “much more intense than the opposition to gays serving openly today in the military.”

What are the bottom lines?

Thursday’s hearing came across as a vigorous debate between Republicans on the committee, most of whom seem to oppose repeal, and Democrats and the Defense Department’s top brass, who appear to support it.

But it took place against the backdrop of a political gaming of the Senate’s parliamentary procedures.

All 42 Republicans in the Senate signed onto a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday, Nov. 30, saying they would not agree to vote on “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase … .”

Although the language of “fund the government” might provide some wiggle room for the defense authorization bill (because it authorizes the expenditure of funds for the government), the letter is being widely characterized as an obstacle to consideration of DADT repeal, which is contained inside the defense authorization bill.

Maine Republican Collins’ questions Thursday suggested she is still for repealing DADT — a position she took in the committee’s original vote on the defense authorization bill in September.

Unless she and a few other Republicans agree to provide the Democrats with the votes they need to reach 60 — to allow the defense authorization bill to the floor — Thursday’s debate and debate that will take place during Day Two of the hearing, Friday, Dec. 3, are moot.

The hope of convincing some Republicans to wiggle themselves around the Republican drop dead letter could well have been behind Secretary Gates’ repeated assurances Thursday that he would not sign the necessary document to “certify” the troops are ready to implement repeal until “everything has been done” to ensure the troops are ready and that the chiefs of each of the service branches “are comfortable” that any risks to combat readiness had been “mitigated if not eliminated.”

Neither Gates nor Mullen suggested how long it might take to certify such readiness after Congress votes to repeal the law. But both also sought to impress upon the committee another issue with regard to timing: The courts.

“Whatever risk there may be to repeal of this law, it is greatly mitigated by the thorough implementation plan included in this study, the time to carry out that plan and effective, inspirational leadership,” said Mullen in his opening statement.

“Now, let me tell you what I believe,” continued Mullen. “I believe our troops and their families are ready for this. Most of them believe they serve, or have served, alongside gays and lesbians, and knowing matters a lot … . “I believe now is the time to act. I worry that unpredictable actions in the court could strike down the law at any time, precluding the orderly implementation plan we believe is necessary to mitigate risk,” Mullen said. “I also have no expectation that challenges to our national security are going to diminish in the near future, such that a more convenient time will appear.” 

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 03, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Military leaders stand firm during 1st day of Senate hearings on ‘don’t ask don’t tell’

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

The Pentagon’s top four leaders stood their ground Thursday, Dec. 2 during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Defense Department’s report concerning “don’t ask don’t tell.” But there was considerable pushback from Republicans on the committee — and not just John McCain.

A lot of important ground was covered — both technically, concerning certification and benefits, and personally, with top military officials making clear that they believe repeal is the right thing to do and that now is the right time to do it.

Important, too, were questions by Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — Republicans who, until recently, were considered potential votes to at least allow the Senate to debate the repeal measure.

Collins spent her time for questions laying out arguments to rebut criticisms made of the Pentagon’s report by McCain and others; and Graham seemed to have backed off his complaint last week that the study failed to investigate “whether” DADT should be repealed.

What is the question?

One of the chief criticisms hurled at the report by McCain and several other Republicans was that the Pentagon did not ask a direct question of the 400,000 troops surveyed to determine whether they would like Congress to repeal DADT. Collins noted that the Pentagon does not ask troops whether they want to go to Iraq either and that, while troops were not asked about DADT repeal directly, their thinking was certainly conveyed by their responses to less direct questions.

The insistence, by McCain and others, that troops should have been polled on whether to keep DADT elicited the strongest rebuke from the military leaders themselves. Both Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen repeatedly rejected the idea as “dangerous.”

Gates said that conducting a “referendum” on a matter of military policy “is a very dangerous path.” Mullen agreed, saying it would be an “incredibly bad precedent to essentially vote on a policy.”

McCain persisted, saying it was “not voting” on a policy, it was “asking their views.” He was not alone. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., said he, too, felt the Pentagon should have asked a direct question.

Both McCain and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., seemed to flirt with the use of some inflammatory tactics during the hearing. McCain twice raised the issue of who was responsible for the current public release of classified documents by a website called Wikileaks — an act that is considered to be one of the most damaging breaches in intelligence confidentiality in American history. It has been widely reported that the 22-year-old Army private first-class who has been arrested for enabling the leaks, Bradley Manning, has identified himself as gay.

Chambliss noted that Admiral Mullen, in his opening statement both Thursday and at a previous hearing in February, indicated he had served alongside gay people and had gay people under his command. Chambliss asked questions to suggest that Mullen had failed to seek the discharge of these gay servicemembers as required by existing military policy at the time. (Mullen, however, noted that military law and policy has changed during the course of his career in the service and that, in fact, “every single one” of the gays he knew of were discharged. “I did this, and I saw this,” said Mullen.)

What is the difference?

There was considerable discussion of how the repeal of DADT might mirror the changes that took place in the late 1940s and 1950s after then President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order requiring integration and again in the 1960s when Congress repealed a two-percent cap on the number of women who could serve.

“Social changes in the military have not been particularly easy,” said Gates. He said that “serious racial problems” plagued the military “at least through” the Vietnam War years and that women in the military still face the very real problem with sexual assaults.

McCain pointed out that, in 1993, General Colin Powell had opposed gays in the military and rebuffed attempts to compare discrimination based on race and that based on sexual orientation.

Jeh Johnson, the co-chair of the Pentagon study group, said he would agree that “issues of race and sexual orientation are fundamentally different.” But he said that, in his study of integration issues for the DADT report, he found that some of the nation’s greatest heroes in World War II “predicted negative consequences for unit cohesion if there was racial integration” of the troops.

Johnson, who is African-American, also noted that surveys of 3,000 to 4,000 troops in the 1940s found that opposition to racial integration ran as high as 80 percent — and that was at a time when there were only about 700,000 black soldiers in a force of 8 million troops. It was also a time, said Johnson, when integration was not accepted by society at large.

“But we did it. It took some time. It was not without incident,” said Johnson, “but we did it and, I think the chairman said, the military was stronger as a result.”

In fact, Johnson said the opposition to racial integration then was “much more intense than the opposition to gays serving openly today in the military.”

What are the bottom lines?

Thursday’s hearing came across as a vigorous debate between Republicans on the Committee, most of whom seem to oppose repeal, and Democrats and the Defense Department’s top brass, who appear to support it. But it took place against the backdrop of a political gaming of the Senate’s parliamentary procedures. All 42 Republicans in the Senate signed onto a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday saying they would not agree to vote on “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase.” Although the language of “fund the government” might provide some wiggle room for the defense authorization bill (because it authorizes the expenditure of funds for the government), the letter is being widely characterized as an obstacle to consideration of DADT repeal, which is contained inside the defense authorization bill.

Maine Republican Collins’ questions Thursday suggest she is still for repealing DADT — a position she took in the Committee’s original vote on the defense authorization bill in September. Unless she and a few other Republicans provide Democrats with the votes they need to reach 60 — to allow the defense authorization bill to the floor— Thursday’s debate and debate that will take place during Day Two of the hearing, Friday, are moot.

Collins has been ridiculed by a number of pundits in recent days for saying she didn’t know how to vote on another contentious piece of legislation — the START treaty — and that she would appreciate getting some direction from two former Republican presidents — the two Bushes. Such negative publicity may have inspired Collins to ask the pro-repeal oriented questions she asked at Thursday’s hearings.

The hope of convincing some Republicans to wiggle themselves around the Republican drop dead letter could well have been behind Secretary Gates’ repeated assurances Thursday that he would not sign the necessary document to “certify” the troops are ready to implement repeal until “everything has been done” to ensure the troops are ready and that the chiefs of each of the service branches “are comfortable” that any risks to combat readiness had been “mitigated if not eliminated.”

Neither Gates nor Mullen suggested how long it might take to certify such readiness after Congress votes to repeal the law. But both also sought to impress upon the Committee another issue with regard to timing: The courts.

“Whatever risk there may be to repeal of this law, it is greatly mitigated by the thorough implementation plan included in this study, the time to carry out that plan, and effective, inspirational leadership,” said Mullen in his opening statement.

“Now, let me tell you what I believe,” continued Mullen. “I believe our troops and their families are ready for this. Most of them believe they serve, or have served, alongside gays and lesbians, and knowing matters a lot….

“I believe now is the time to act. I worry that unpredictable actions in the court could strike down the law at any time, precluding the orderly implementation plan we believe is necessary to mitigate risk,” said Mullen. “I also have no expectation that challenges to our national security are going to diminish in the near future, such that a more convenient time will appear.”

Copyright ©2010 Keen News Service. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

—  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