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'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Repeal Gets Critical 15th Vote

Byrd last week. (Alex Wong/Getty Images) hide caption

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Byrd last week. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

It looks like those who favor repealing the "don't ask, don't tell" law that bars gays from openly serving in the military have the crucial 15th vote they need in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

NPR's Liz Halloran tells us that Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., released a statement last evening saying, in part, that:

"I did not want to blindly assent to repealing this law without giving the Congress an opportunity to re-examine the concerns of our Armed Forces and the manner in which they are being addressed.

"Therefore, I worked with the Senate and House Leadership, Senators Lieberman and Levin, Congressman Murphy, the Administration and the Department of Defense to include a provision in the proposed compromise amendment that would delay the repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy for 60 days after receipt of the findings of the Pentagon review and the determination of the proposed policy and regulation changes.

"This period of time will allow the Congress, along with the American people, to thoroughly review the proposed policy recommendations to ensure that these changes are consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention for our Armed Forces.

"With these changes, I will support the amendment expected to be offered by Senator Lieberman to the Department of Defense Authorization bill."

As Liz has been reporting, the Armed Services committee is expected to vote on the repeal amendment today, and the scramble had been on to line up the 15 votes needed to move the legislation out of committee and on to the full Senate, which could vote on the measure before the close of business tomorrow. The House is expected to take it up today. With Democrats in control of both chambers and both the White House and the party leaders supporting repeal, passage is expected.

We'll be updating this post as the day continues, so be sure to click your "refresh" button to see our latest additions.

Update at 7:55 a.m. ET: The Armed Services committee has 28 members — 15 Democrats and one independent (Lieberman) who caucuses with the Democrats, and 12 Republicans. One Democrat, Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia, has indicated he will oppose the repeal amendment. One Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, has said she will support it.

Byrd had been one of two Democrats on the committee who hadn't yet announced their intentions — so proponents had been anxiously waiting to hear whether he or Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, would become the 15th "yes" vote. Bayh, as the Indianapolis Star reports this morning, hasn't yet announced what he plans to do.

Update at 11:10 a.m. ET: The House has begun debate on the Defense authorization bill that the amendment has been attached to, Liz tells us. We'll pass along word on the House vote as soon as it happens.

Update at 11:30 a.m. ET. A sample of the House debate so far:

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas: Voting on a repeal of don't ask, don't tell before the Pentagon's review is completed says to the military that "we don't care what you think. We're shoving this down your throat."

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.: A vote "for" repeal is a "vote against discrimination. ... Congress must never again sanction bigotry in our armed forces."

Update at 12:10 p.m. ET. Liz passes along more from the House debate:

— Rep. Barney Frank, an openly gay Massachusetts Democrat, said that if he had proposed that gay and lesbian Americans be exempted from any draft during a time of war he could — accurately, he said — be accused of attempting to create "special rights" for certain people.

"Gay and lesbians ... have not just the right, but the obligation to serve their country," Frank said. And, added Frank, those who argue that allowing gays to serve openly would undermine the fighting force and unit cohesion "must never have heard of Israel," which does not bar openly gay citizens from serving.

— Republican Mike Pence of Indiana, who opposes the amendment, said that the "American people don't want to see the American military used as a vehicle to advance a liberal, social agenda."

Polls in recent years — including a CNN survey conducted May 21-23 — have consistently shown that more than three quarters of Americans say they believe that openly gay citizens should be allowed to serve in the military.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET: According to the Associated Press, the House may not begin voting on the amendment until this evening.

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