By Alexander Bolton and Roxana Tiron - 12/18/10 04:55 PM EST
A proposal to repeal the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy cleared a major hurdle Saturday in Congress when the Senate voted to end a GOP-led filibuster.
The Senate voted, 63-33, to advance a stand-alone bill that would allow openly gay and lesbian military service members, moving the second piece of legislation that was key for President Obama in the lame-duck session.
The Senate will vote at 3 p.m. Saturday on final passage of the repeal. It is expected to pass easily because it requires only a simple majority.
Obama pledged to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” during the 2008 campaign and came under heavy pressure from gay-rights advocacy groups to end discrimination against gays in the military.
Obama held off on pushing Congress to approve a repeal until recent months as he focused on passing healthcare reform and improving the economy.
The president told reporters at a press conference shortly after the midterm election he hoped lawmakers would approve the repeal during the lame-duck session.
Repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” appeared in doubt earlier this fall when Senate Republicans twice voted to block defense authorization legislation that included the measure. Republicans, including senators who were sympathetic to the repeal, charged that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was attempting to speed the massive defense bill through the chamber too quickly.
Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) was the only Republican to vote to advance the defense bill with a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” when it came to the floor Dec. 9.
The repeal gained new life, however, after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced he would separate the repeal from the broader defense bill and advance it as a free-standing measure.
The effort to repeal "Don't ask" isn't over.
The repeal measure requires the president and the secretary of Defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to send a certification to Congress declaring they have considered the recommendations contained in the Pentagon Working Group report on repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell."
They must also certify that the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations to implement the repeal and that those policies are consistent with military standards for readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion and recruiting and retention.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy established under former President Bill Clinton, will not be repealed until 60 days after Obama submits the certification to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.
Supporters of the repeal credit the 10-month Pentagon report for building support in the Senate. The report concluded that allowing openly gay service members would not harm military missions and that a majority of troops would not object to the change.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed the study and pressed Congress to pass the repeal to avoid having courts resolve the issue.
Democratic leaders are on the verge of clinching a big victory for gay rights activists with only a few days to spare. If Congress had not passed the repeal before the end of the year, it would have had little chance of success next year when Republicans will control the House.
This story was updated at 12:30 p.m.