The U.S. House of Representatives voted 234-194 to include a repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy banning open homosexuals from service in the armed forces to a defense spending bill Thursday night. Hours earlier, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16-12 to approve the repeal for their version of the must-pass bill.
Only five House Republicans voted in favor of the repeal, while 26 Democrats voted against. In the Senate committee, the only Republican to support the repeal was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine; Democrat Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia joined GOP members against the move before the committee voted 18-10 to send the bill to the Senate floor.
President Obama immediately issued a statement expressing satisfaction with the progress of the repeal. “I have long advocated that we repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’, and I am pleased that both the House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee took important bipartisan steps toward repeal tonight,” he said, adding that the measure “will help make our Armed Forces even stronger and more inclusive.”
Several conservative lawmakers expressed outrage that the ban was being rushed through – anticipating an end to momentum with the loss of several Democrat seats in November – before the Pentagon had a chance to submit the results of a review of how repealing the ban would affect military readiness, retention, recruiting, and morale.
“Congress acting first [before the Pentagon review] is the equivalent of turning to our men and women in uniform and their families and saying, your opinions don’t count,” said Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) in remarks on the House floor before the vote. “I’ve read into the record, letters from the secretary – the chairman of each of the services, asking us to not do this. Don’t disrespect the military. Give them the opportunity to have their input.”
Democrats defended the maneuver by pointing out that the repeal would require certification from the president, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, confirming that the repeal was sensible in light of the Pentagon report due by December 1.
Conservative leaders, however, maintain that the scheme is stacked against the current law: although Gates and Mullen have already expressed willingness to repeal the ban, countless other representatives of the armed forces have spoken strongly in favor of DADT, including the head of the U.S. Marines, 1,160 retired U.S. admirals and generals, a former chief of the Pentagon’s Criminal Law Division, over 40 retired military chaplains, and groups representing 4 million wartime veterans.
“The hard left of the Democratic Party, led by President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, have chosen to put a political constituency with a radical agenda – the homosexual lobby – ahead of the well-being of our men and women in uniform,” said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins in a press release Thursday night.
“Unfortunately, for our brave servicemen and women, the liberal majority chose to advance the social agenda of a radical special interest group without giving an opportunity for the military to finish its own study of the issue. Concern, not for the troops but for their own political hides, is moving the Democrats to act with such expediency.”
Perkins pointed to a recent Zogby poll finding that Americans, by a ratio of three to one, believe that the decision should be left to military leaders rather than Congress. “These politicians have seriously miscalculated if they believe they can use the military to advance this radical social policy without being held accountable,” he added.