'Don't ask, don't tell' repeal will return to Senate floor, Reid says
Updated 8:30 p.m.
The Senate will reconsider next month an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from openly serving in uniform, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday.
Reid said that language ending the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military will be part of the annual defense authorization bill, which sets Pentagon policy and funding.
In a key concession to moderate Republicans seeking a fair debate on the measure, Reid is expected to allow senators of both parties to offer amendments to the bill, according to aides. The move could woo the support of at least some senators who have said they would vote to end the gay ban if Reid permitted them to offer amendments.
The decision was announced during a Capitol Hill meeting Wednesday that gathered Reid, gay rights leaders and senior White House aides, and it comes as the Obama administration intensifies its efforts to ensure the gay ban is ended this year.
The attendance of Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, Legislative Affairs Aide Phil Schiliro and other aides at Wednesday's meeting follows weeks of complaints from gay rights leaders that the White House wasn't working hard enough to fulfill President Obama's campaign pledge to end the gay ban during his administration.
Separately, Obama phoned Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Wednesday to reiterate his commitment to keeping repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in the defense bill, White House aides said. Levin said Tuesday that he would be open to moving the defense bill without language that ends the gay ban.
The defense bill still faces significant obstacles. Conservative Republicans could still block a vote on the bill by threatening a filibuster; Reid would then need 60 votes to overcome that threat. Meanwhile, a bevy of senators will not decide how to vote on the issue until after reading a Pentagon report, due Dec. 1, regarding how lifting the ban could impact troop readiness and morale. The report is expected to conclude that the military could lift the ban with minimal, isolated risk, according to sources who shared details last week with The Washington Post.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has signaled he may block efforts to end the ban this year, saying lawmakers should wait for the Pentagon to conduct further studies on the matter before voting.
Reid also said Wednesday that he plans to reintroduce DREAM Act as a standalone bill. The measure would create citizenship opportunities for the children of illegal immigrants who enroll in college or the military. Reid tried to add the act to the defense bill in September, but backtracked amid stiff Republican opposition.
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