The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon to approve a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The vote was 250 to 175.
It was the second time this year the House approved such a measure. In May, the vote was 232 to 180. The measure will now go to the Senate where it is expected to reach the floor sometime next week.
The vote may have confused someone just tuning in to the debate because it appeared, on the surface, to be a debate about a small business bill. But that bill, which has been approved by both houses but not sent to conference, was gutted and language from a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal bill was inserted.
This new language was introduced by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Penn.), as a standalone repeal bill Tuesday, as a way of encouraging and speeding up the passage of a similar standalone bill in the Senate.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took to the floor early in the debate to urge passage of the measure and cite polling data released Wednesday showing 8 out of 10 Americans support repeal.
“It is my hope to encourage the Senate to take this long overdue action,” said Pelosi.
Murphy, urging support for repeal, said, “Enough of the games. Enough of the politics… . This vote is about whether we’re going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so.”
Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) controlled debate for Democrats and led with remarks saying, “the time to act is here.” Davis is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Change is never easy but it rarely is as necessary as it is today,” said Davis. “…If we miss this opportunity to repeal this law, history will judge us poorly.”
Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who will be the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee beginning in January, expressed “strong opposition” to the repeal measure. He lamented the committee was not being given an opportunity to hold its own hearing on the Dec. 1 report submitted by the Pentagon. The Senate Armed Services Committee held such a hearing on Dec. 2 and 3.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) urged voting against the repeal measure to provide the military with more time to “deal with this in their own way.”
Many of the Republicans who spoke lamented the fact that Congress has yet to pass the annual Defense Authorization bill, suggesting that debating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was somehow interfering with that bill.
The irony, of course, was that Republicans in the Senate blocked consideration of the Defense Authorization bill, in large part because it included the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) called Republicans on that, and said Republicans had repeatedly blocked consideration of the defense bill. He also argued that it’s not service members who are uneasy with the change, but Republican members of Congress.
Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) also spoke in favor of repeal, said the current policy is un-American.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) opposed repeal, and said “the military is inconsistent with American values” because members do not have freedom of speech, “because it’s an impediment to the military mission.”
But Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) urged support for repeal, and said service members in his district reflected the results of the Pentagon study that found most anticipate no problems with repeal.
And Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), an African American, said, “I don’t need a survey to tell me what’s right when it comes to human rights.”
“We cannot have a first-class military with second-class soldiers,” said Green. “I will not ask people who are willing to die for my country to lie for my country.”
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), who is said to be considering a presidential run, opposed repeal, and said it was not about discomfort with homosexuality but a significant percent of service members surveyed by the Pentagon suggested would have difficulty with the repeal.
The Senate last week fell just three votes short of moving to consideration of the issue through the Defense Authorization bill, which includes repeal language.
If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attempts to bring it to the floor of the Senate in the next few days, it will still need 60 votes to reach the floor.
West Virginia activists and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) delivered 800 petitions to the offices of West Virginia’s new Democratic Senator, Joe Manchin, on Wednesday, hoping to reverse his recent vote against consideration of the repeal.
Manchin, the only Senate Democrat to vote with Republicans to keep a filibuster going last week, said he voted no because he hadn’t had enough time to review the issue.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) said last week she would have voted for cloture on the defense bill had she been in the chamber during the vote. And Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) has said he would vote for cloture after the Senate completes passage of a bill to extend tax cuts.
The Senate on Wednesday passed the tax cut extension bill and then moved immediately to consideration of a new arms control treaty (START). Some are predicting the House will soon pass the tax cut bill, too, fulfilling a Republican Party demand that has prevented consideration of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and other issues.
So, presumably, the bill to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would need only one more Republican vote on cloture and a simple majority to pass on its merits. Democratic leaders have said repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has had more than enough support for that for months now.
One troubling development for repeal — though not one that is expected to deliver much punch — was a statement Tuesday from U.S. Marine Corps Commandant James Amos.
Amos told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that he thinks repeal threatens the lives of Marines in combat because a soldier’s being gay presents a “distraction” to Marines and “distractions cost Marines’ lives.”
“I don’t want to lose any Marines to distraction,” said Amos. “I don’t want to have any Marines that I’m visiting at Bethesda [Army Hospital] with no legs.”
Just minutes before the House began debate on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, the White House issued a statement, saying the Obama administration “strongly supports” its passage.