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Lieberman Introduces DADT Repeal Bill


Update: Independent senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut on Wednesday introduced the Senate's first "don't ask, don't tell" repeal bill along with 11 Democratic cosponsors including Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, but no Republicans.

"To me, it's very important that we repeal this law, both because it's fair and consistent with basic American values of equal opportunity," Lieberman told The Advocate, "but also because it's a very positive step for the military to take in terms of military effectiveness and readiness."

The legislation, called the Military Readiness Enhancement Act of 2010, would repeal the 1993 law that banned lesbian and gay soldiers from serving openly in the military and replace it with a policy that prohibits discrimination against service members on the basis of their sexual orientation. Lieberman explained that the nondiscrimination provision would make the change "more permanent legislatively," so a future administration couldn't revert back to something akin to "don't ask, don't tell" by executive action.

Lieberman, who has opposed the '93 law since its inception, said ending the policy has significant support and that he would push for passing the bill this year, although he wasn't sure he had the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

"I think a guess right now -- and this is really a guess -- if this bill came to a vote tomorrow, we'd have over 50 votes and that's saying a lot," he said. "Do we have 60? Not clear yet, but possible."

But Lieberman also said he had spoken with Chairman Levin "preliminarily" about including the legislation in this year's defense authorization bill before it's passed out of committee.

"That's something that I'm happy to consider and, of course, it's very important to have the chairman's support for that," Lieberman said, noting that including a measure in committee would have "the procedural advantage" of forcing opponents to find the 60 votes needed to strip out the measure once it reached the floor. If the opposition failed to amass those votes, they would have to filibuster the entire defense authorization bill, which would include many other provisions they might hesitate to obstruct, such as an increase in compensation for military personnel and funding for various defense systems.

Levin has been aggressively exploring the possibility of imposing a moratorium on discharges while the Defense Department conducts a yearlong study on how to implement a repeal that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for during a February hearing. During testimony last week, most of the individual service chiefs advised against a suspension of discharges, saying it would disrupt Gates's review process.

Under the Lieberman bill, discharges would become illegal and be halted on the date of enactment, or the moment the president signs the measure. However, the bill also allows the Pentagon approximately a year from February to perform its study, then another 60 days to issue new regulations and another 120 days for the individual service chiefs to issue their regulations.

"On the date of enactment, the discharges would have to stop," said Lieberman. "Nonetheless, the bill does embrace the study that Secretary Gates has ordered within the department."

The White House, which has been talking with Lieberman since last fall about the bill, did not respond to a request for comment on its introduction.

Although Lieberman said the administration "unequivocally" favors overturning the policy, he added that officials have not explicitly discussed timing or specific strategies for repeal.

"I haven't had the chance to talk to the White House about the idea of putting it into the defense authorization bill," he said. "But in their request to ask me to take the lead on this, they've been very clear that this is important to the president."

The bill's original cosponsors include Democratic senators Levin, Mark Udall of Colorado, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Roland Burris of Illinois, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Barbara Boxer of California, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Dianne Feinstein of California.

Conspicuously absent is any GOP support for the bill. Lieberman said he had spoken with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a longtime ally of his and a consistent supporter of pro-equality legislation. Collins cosponsors both an LGBT employment nondiscrimination bill and legislation that would provide benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

A spokesperson for Collins said the senator would first like to see "a thorough review" of the law that takes into account the demands of the military and the challenges of instituting policy changes during wartime.

"The Department of Defense is in the process of reviewing the issues associated with implementing a repeal and Senator Collins looks forward to the results of this review," said Kevin Kelley.

But Lieberman added that Collins is not the only Republican who might cosponsor the legislation.

"I think there are a couple of others who are looking at it seriously, and I hope once we pick up one or two of them maybe there will be some more," he said. "In my opinion, this is non-ideological. In some sense, it's libertarian, in the sense that it's freedom -- it's giving people the right to serve their country. So this seems to be quite a consistent thing for the party of Abraham Lincoln."

The House's companion legislation, the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, now has 189 cosponsors. Democratic aides say the chief sponsor, Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, has about two dozen more verbal commitments from members who have said they would vote for the bill, putting the bill close to the 218 necessary for passage.

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