Senate Passes Repeal Of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
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Senator KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (Democrat, New York): Since this policy has been in place we have lost 13,000 personnel, more than 10 percent of our foreign language speakers and more than 800 in mission critical areas that cannot be easily replaced. If you care about national security, if you care about our military readiness, then you will repeal this corrosive policy.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona): To somehow allege that it has harmed our military is not justified by the facts.
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RAZ: The voices of Senators John McCain and Kirsten Gillibrand during today's debate on ending the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy.
In a moment, we'll check in with our news analyst, James Fallows, of The Atlantic. But first, to NPR's David Welna who's on Capitol Hill where the Senate voted to authorize the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
DAVID WELNA: The 65 to 31 Senate vote this afternoon authorizing a repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was almost anticlimactic. Only a simple majority was needed to pass the legislation which already passed the House this week by a wide margin.
The real drama came earlier in the day when a super majority of 60 senators had to be mustered in a procedural vote to move the bill past the thread of a GOP filibuster. And supporters of repeal packed the upper Senate chamber. Lawmakers made their cases for and against on the floor below.
Colorado Democrat Mark Udall has been one of leading advocates of overturning Don't Ask, Don't Tell. He denied allegations by Republicans that today's vote was meant to placate liberals and gay rights activists.
Mr. MARK UDALL: Repealing this law is not about scoring political points or catering to a special interest group. Rather, it's about doing the right thing for our national security, especially during a time of two wars.
WELNA: But critics of repeal argued that a nation involved in two wars can't risk a big change in the military personnel policy. Georgia Republican Saxby Chambliss pointed to recent testimony from the Army and Marine ring corps. commanders to urge Congress to hold off on repeal.
Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): It does have the potential for increasing the risk of harm and depth to our men and women who are serving in combat today. If, for no other reason, we ought not to repeal this today. Should it be done at some point in time? Maybe so. But in the middle of a military conflict is not the time to do it.
WELNA: Still, half a dozen Republicans broke ranks with their party on the procedural vote and sided with Democrats to move the bill to a final vote. The fight in effect was over, and Majority Leader Harry Reid declared victory.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada, Majority Leader): This day's vote said if you want to discriminate, it has no place in America. It has no place in Armed Forces. It said that we don't care who you love as long as you love your country.
WELNA: At a news conference here at the Capitol, the vote was hailed by the president of the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign Joe Solmonese.
Mr. JOE SOLMONESE (President, Human Rights Campaign): America made history today. As gay men and lesbians, we are grateful that our nation recognized that we should be able to serve our nation openly and honestly.
WELNA: But an actual repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell won't happen until President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen certify that the military is ready for such a change. Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin says it's not clear how long that will take.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Chairman, Armed Services Committee): Secretary Gates has assured everybody that he is not going to certify that the military is ready for repeal until he is satisfied, with the advice of the service chiefs, that we had in fact mitigated, if not eliminated to the extent possible risks to combat readiness, to unit cohesion and effectiveness.
WELNA: And once that certification is made, there will be a mandatory 60-day waiting period before it takes effect. Aubrey Sarvis heads the pro-repeal Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
Mr. AUBREY SARVIS (Executive Director, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network): During this limbo interim period, I respectfully call upon the Secretary of Defense Secretary Gates to use his existing authority to suspend all investigations and all of these charges until the law is finally repealed.
WELNA: The final policy change may still take some time. But once it happens, President Obama can claim to have made good on a longstanding campaign promise.
David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.
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