It’s a win for gay rights advocates and liberals who had been angry that President Obama hadn’t acted quickly enough on a campaign promise, and a major loss for John McCain, who became the single, angry face of opposition to this sweeping change in the military’s rules.
The big picture from Roll Call:
The Senate gave final approval Saturday to repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Saturday, delivering gay rights advocates a historic victory and sending legislation long in the making to President Barack Obama for a signature.
The bill, which had overcome a crucial procedural hurdle earlier in the day, passed on a 65-31 vote as the Senate scrambled to complete its business before Christmas.
The repeal effort picked up two new Republican supporters after the earlier vote — Sens. Richard Burr and John Ensign. Ensign is up for re-election in 2012.
In a statement explaining his switch to supporting the repeal, Burr cited the nation’s “generational transition.”
The North Carolina Republican said while he is concerned the timing is “wrong” given two active wars, “I feel that this policy is outdated and repeal is inevitable … [R]epealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the right thing to do.”
Ensign said in a statement that he opposed the procedural vote earlier because Democrats would not allow consideration of amendments.
“[I]t is my firm belief that any American wishing to fight and potentially die for this great country ought to be able to do so regardless of sexual orientation,” the Nevada Republican said. “These fine individuals should not have to hide who they are.”
The Senate failed twice before to advance language repealing the Clinton-era policy, but succeeded Saturday just three days after the House passed the same measure mostly along partisan lines. The vote in the Senate included the support of eight Republicans: Burr, Ensign, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Scott Brown (Mass.), as well as retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.)
Freshman Sen. Joe Manchin (D), who had been expected to vote no, did not attend the vote.
Statement from the White House, which actually came following the cloture vote that allowed debate to proceed on the final bill:
Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.
As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.
I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.
And here’s the statement from Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will lead the overall implementation of the rules change:
“I welcome today’s vote by the Senate clearing the way for a legislative repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law.
“Once this legislation is signed into law by the President, the Department of Defense will immediately proceed with the planning necessary to carry out this change carefully and methodically, but purposefully. This effort will be led by Dr. Clifford Stanley, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and himself a retired Marine Corps major general and infantry officer.
“The legislation provides that repeal will take effect once the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that implementation of the new policies and regulations written by the Department is consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces. As I have stated before, I will approach this process deliberately and will make such certification only after careful consultation with the military service chiefs and our combatant commanders and when I am satisfied that those conditions have been met for all the Services, commands and units.
“It is therefore important that our men and women in uniform understand that while today’s historic vote means that this policy will change, the implementation and certification process will take an additional period of time. In the meantime, the current law and policy will remain in effect.
“Successful implementation will depend upon strong leadership, a clear message and proactive education throughout the force. With a continued and sustained commitment to core values of leadership, professionalism and respect for all, I am convinced that the U.S. military can successfully accommodate and implement this change, as it has others in history.”
From Military.com, more on implimentation:
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.
…And a few thoughts from John McCain:
Sen. John McCain, Obama’s GOP rival in 2008, led the opposition. Speaking on the Senate floor minutes before the vote, the Arizona Republican acknowledged he didn’t have the votes to stop the bill. He blamed elite liberals with no military experience for pushing their social agenda on troops during wartime.
“They will do what is asked of them,” McCain said of service members. “But don’t think there won’t be a great cost.”
Despite McCain’s continued umbrage, Gates and military leaders had expressed concern that repeal was probably inevitable, and could happen via the courts, rather than Congress, which would have been disruptive to the service branches, particularly with two shooting wars still under way. Some service chief — notably the Marines — still oppose repeal, but in Senate hearings last month, even the Marine brass said they’d rather see repeal come legislatively, so that Gates, not judges, would be the one implementing it. It remains to be see what, if any, reaction there will be inside the military, though you likely won’t see much publicly, and DADT isn’t a top priority issue to the majority of fighting forces, who are kind of busy with Iraq and Afghanistan. But long term, issues like partner benefits, housing, etc., and the potential associated costs, will be the next phase of this issue.
Meanwhile, Greg Sargent, who was one of several liberal media figures who have pushed hard for repeal, posted a lengthy piece on the people and tactics responsible for getting the bill through the Senate (though he didn’t address the House leader, Patrick Murphy, an Iraq war veteran who lost his seat in November but continued pushing for repeal. Sargent credits Joe Lieberman, who ironically became a hero to liberals who despised him during the healthcare debate, but who Sargent says provided the crucial counter-balance to the immovable McCain, as well as Harry Reid, also much maligned over the last two years by the left, but whose scheduling of the defense authorization vote, then the stand-alone, and his cajoling of moderate Republicans like Scott Brown and Olympia Snowe, ultimately proved effective. And Sargent added this about the man liberals have vilified most in recent months: President Obama, particularly for his deal-making on taxes with the GOP:
Obama had been criticized for months on don’t ask don’t tell, with advocates complaining that his administration aggressively defended DADT in court and that he wasn’t doing enough to rally the Senate to pass repeal. But the botton line is that the White House did everything possible to create the political climate necessary to make this happen. The Pentagon report and the testimony by Robert Gates — and his public round of interviews calling on Congress to pass repeal for the good of the military — were major game-changers.
Also: For all the criticism of the Obama tax deal, today’s victory stands as partial vindication of his strategy. Getting the tax deal wrapped up early made the time for repeal, with only days left in the lame-duck session.
This is an important victory for the White House in another way. It will quiet all the talk about Obama’s supposed “triangulating,” because it demonstrates — for the time being, anyway — that even as the White House sees a need to trade away some core liberal priorities to compromise with Repubilcans, Obama seems to want to bring the left along with him, to whatever degree he can. This will make it tougher to argue that Obama’s strategy is to deliberately alienate the left in order to win back the middle of the country.
Republicans may yet hold up the START treaty as a result of Saturday’s vote, and unfortunately for Latinos, their priority, the DREAM Act, was scuttled by Senate Republicans the same day. It remains to be seen whether disappointment among Hispanics, or the elation of liberals, will prove more beneficial to the president’s political standing with Democrats in the short term. Also to be seen: whether liberals who have been berating the president will now give him some breathing room to work on other priorities, like the economy and jobs.