ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:
The push to repeal the military’s controversial "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy on gays and lesbians serving openly gained a historic victory today when Democrats finally overcame a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
The Senate voted 63-33 to advance the bill beyond a procedural hurdle. Final passage of the bill could come later this weekend. The House passed the measure earlier this week, so it will be sent to President Obama’s desk once final passage occurs in the Senate.
Once the bill to repeal "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" is sent to the White House, the policy will still remain in effect. President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen must certify that the military is ready for repeal, a move that will then kick off a 60-day countdown to the start of repeal, during which time the policy will remain in place.
In the hours before this morning’s vote, Senate Democrats vehemently argued that it was long past time that the 17-year-old policy comes to an end.
“'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' is a wrong that should never have been perpetrated. Let us move to end it today,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who voted today despite preparing to undergo surgery for prostate cancer on Monday.
“The only method of repeal that places the timing of repeal and the control of implementation in the hands of our military leaders is the enactment of this bill,” said Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“We cannot let these patriots down. Their suffering should end. It will end with the passage of this bill. I urge its passage today. It's the right thing to do.”
“The existing 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' policy is inconsistent with basic American values,” argued Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who introduced the stand-alone bill in Congress last week after Senate Democrats failed in an attempt to pass the repeal attached to the annual defense authorization bill.
“If you care about national security, if you care about our military readiness, then you will repeal this corrosive policy,” urged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
But Senate Republicans argued that during a time of military conflict, now was the wrong time to implement a repeal.
“It does have the potential for increasing the risk of harm and death 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,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.
“The Army, the Air Force, and particularly the Marine Corps have cautioned us not to do this now, this way,” warned Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted that in his conversations with members of the military they had a simple message for him about repealing the policy.
“They’re saying if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it,” McCain said. “I understand the other side’s argument because of their social-political agenda, but to somehow allege that it has harmed our military isn’t justified by the facts.”
At the same time, McCain acknowledged even then — before the vote — that the repeal would pass.
“I hope that when we pass this legislation that we will understand that we are doing great damage,” he said.
“Today is a very sad day,” McCain sighed later.
And pass it did, with the support of a handful of Republicans who helped the bill move past today’s procedural hurdle. Six GOP Senators voted in favor of repeal: Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Mark Kirk of Illinois, George Voinovich of Ohio and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Four senators did not vote: Sens. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
In a sign of the massive interest in today’s vote on the "Don’t Ask Don’t" Tell repeal and an earlier vote on the DREAM Act, a slew of interested onlookers packed the Senate chamber this morning to watch the proceedings unfold.
“This is one of those moments in our history when we stepped up and squared our policies with the values this nation was founded upon,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement after the vote.