News (USA)

Senate to take up Defense bill that includes ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to schedule a vote next week on the annual Defense Authorization Bill — legislation that contains language that would allow the Defense Department to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members.

A senior Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reid met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday to inform the Republican leader that the bill, which sets the annual military budget and policies, will come to the Senate floor the week of Sept. 20. [Washington Blade]

Gay rights groups are expected to mount an aggressive lobbying effort this week, and urge supporters of the repeal to phone senators to urge them to vote for the military bill.

However, Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) downplayed the language in the existing legislation, categorically rejecting that it amounts to a “repeal” of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy enacted during the Clinton administration. [Politico]

“It does not repeal ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ — I wish that it did,” Levin said, before explaining that the language merely allows military authorities to overturn the policy if the internal reports they are conducting conclude that doing so would not be detrimental to troop morale. “I think most people understand what this provision does.”

Brooke Buchanan, a spokesman for Sen. John McCain, top Republican on the panel, said Monday that the Arizona senator intends to support a filibuster of the bill.

“We applaud the Senate Majority Leader’s courage and his statement tonight to bring the defense bill to the floor. Now, we must deliver,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Repeal proponents may well need 60 votes in the Senate to get to this important debate in September. We are now in the final stretch and we must prevail. Repeal supporters should not stop calling their senators. Sen. John McCain has been a strong and vocal opponent from the start and it is critical that we beat back any filibuster threat, defeat attempts to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments.”

Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is unconstitutional.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips shifted the focus on the issue to Congress, where the House of Representatives has already approved the Murphy Amendment, its version of the legislation that repeals DADT pending the Department of Defense study.

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