Senate Votes 63-33 to Advance Repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
WASHINGTON — In a landmark vote for gay rights, the Senate on Saturday voted to advance legislation that would overturn the military ban on openly gay troops known as "don't ask, don't tell."
The 63-33 test vote all but guarantees the legislation will pass the Senate, possibly by day's end, and reach the president's desk before the new year.
The House had passed an identical version of the bill, 250-174, earlier this week.
Repeal would mean that, for the first time in American history, gays would be openly accepted by the military and could acknowledge their sexual orientation without fear of being kicked out.
More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law.
Rounding up a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate was a historic victory for President Barack Obama, who made repeal of the 17-year-old policy a campaign promise in 2008. It also was a political triumph for congressional Democrats who struggled in the final hours of the postelection session to overcome GOP objections on several legislative priorities before Republicans regain control of the House in January.
"As Barry Goldwater said, 'You don't have to be straight to shoot straight,'" said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., referring to the late GOP senator from Arizona.
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Even after the measure were to become law, the policy change wouldn't go into effect right away. Obama and his military advisers would have certify that the change wouldn't hurt the ability of troops to fight, and there would also be a 60-day waiting period.
Some have predicted the process could take as long as a year before Bill Clinton-era policy is repealed.
UPDATE: A procedural vote in the Senate for the DREAM Act has failed. 55 Senators voted for the measure, with 41 voting against, falling short of the necessary votes to overcome a filibuster.
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As of Thursday, it was unlikely that either the DREAM Act or DADT was going to come up for a vote in the Senate in this session. Talking Points Memo was reporting that the White House was "stalling the DADT vote" by insisting that the START nuclear reduction treaty have priority, which meant that there would not be enough time to bring it up this session.
"New START can pass next year; DADT can't," said Kevin Drum. "It's that simple. Repeal of DADT should come first and New START should follow."
Suddenly on Friday, however, "the Senate went its own way," reported Dave Dayen. So what happened?
- Friday morning, Senate Republicans humiliated Reid and Durbin by pulling support for spending bill. As a face saving measure, Reid got them to allow a vote on DADT and DREAM Act. Good news for both DADT and DREAM activists. But because of their poor negotiating skills, the Democrats have now given the GOP both the massive tax cuts they wanted AND the ability to control funding of the government.
- The White House knows they're in trouble with liberals over the tax cut deal. They're reaching out to make amends with the AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka, the Steelworker's Leo Gerard, AFT's Randi Weingarten, and SEIU's Mary Kay Henry. Unfortunately, making amends means forcing them to sit in a room with traitor Hilda Solis, who is trying to destroy them by pushing through Obama's NAFTA-Style Korea Free Trade Deal, and their personal labor Chia Pet, the UAW's Bob King.
- Even Joe Lieberman was tweaking both Reid and Obama over the failure of DADT to be taken up this year. Lieberman seems to want to use DADT as a way to restore his street cred with liberals in anticipation of a tough 2012 Senate race.
- On Friday, Lieberman actually started whipping on the vote, something that actually hadn't been done before. As Jon Walker notes, that's what "fierce advocacy" actually looks like.
- If the DADT repeal didn't come up, everyone from HRC to Joe Manchin to yours truly was saying that Obama had the power to end himself. The White House didn't want to have to take that step, but they might have been forced to in order to get the issue out of the headlines. The last thing Obama wants is to be heckled by DADT activists on the campaign stump. And given the choice between a Presidential signing statement and a congressional repeal, the Department of Defense would choose the latter. Congressional repeal gives them time to implement the policy change more gradually, and less fear that another administration will come in and change course.
- At this point, everyone just wants a win, and DADT looks like the best chance they've got.
To everyone who worked hard to pass the DADT repeal: congratulations. Your willingness to never take "no" for an answer, to make things extremely uncomfortable for those in power, and to work hard at deligitimizing veal pen gatekeepers who stood in the way of your objective should be a model for all activists.
Sadly, the DREAM Act looks like it will fall short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. If that happens it's a tragedy, because the DREAM activists have also worked extremely hard at organizing around the issue. I respect them all tremendously.