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‘Don’t ask’ bill OK’d by House, sent to Senate

Reid vowed to take up issue

Democrats jammed through the House a repeal of the ban on gays openly serving in the military, breathing new life Wednesday into a proposal that appeared dead a week ago and putting the pressure on the Senate to take up the vote before the end of the year.

But even with the successful 250-175 vote and a previous pledge from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to take up the issue this year, it is unclear whether there's enough time left in the lame-duck session for that to happen.

With lawmakers aiming to leave Washington as soon as possible, the proposal could get crowded out by the laundry list of items remaining on the legislative agenda, including a nuclear arms reduction treaty, an extension of tax cuts and passing a spending bill to keep the government funded into next year.

"It is my hope that we will encourage the Senate to take long overdue action," Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on the House floor.

The bill would remove the policy only after the president, secretary of defense, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certifies that scrapping the ban would not hurt the military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and military recruiting and retention.

Wednesday's vote came after the Pentagon released a long-awaited report last month that concluded that the overwhelming majority of U.S. troops were not against seeing the policy repealed, but that nearly 60 percent of Army and Marine Corps warriors said open homosexuals in the ranks would damage war-fighting capabilities.

The White House repeated its support for repeal on Wednesday, releasing a statement that said, "the existing statute weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity, and equality."

Republicans, though, said the issue needs to be studied further.

Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, California Republican, characterized the vote as another attempt to "satisfy Democratic liberal agenda" and said that Democrats were ignoring the military service chiefs - Army General George W. Casey Jr., Air Force General Norton A. Schwartz and Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos, all of whom, have expressed reservations about the policy. Mr. McKeon noted that Mr. Amos said this week that having openly gay men and women serving could become a distraction that could cost lives.

"This is something we all ought to pay serious attention to when we are fighting two wars," he said

The repeal push appeared dead last week after a Republican-led filibuster blocked Senate Democrats' effort to pass theannual defense policy bill, which included a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

But Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced separate, but identical, stand-alone bills that called for repeal.

"It is now the Senate's turn to take the final step toward overturning this discriminatory policy," Mr. Lieberman and Miss Collins said in a joint statement following the House vote. "We are out of excuses."

To pass, the proposal will need to garner 60 votes in the Senate, meaning that Democrats need to keep their more conservative members on board and draw some support from Republicans. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, indicated she'll support the proposal.

House Democrats said they were optimistic the repeal has enough support in the Senate to pass

The vote Wednesday came after Democratic leaders fast-tracked their bill, bypassing the normal committee process, onto the House floor, where lawmakers from both parties returned to familiar arguments.

Democrats said the 17-year-old policy is outdated, unjust, and does not harm the armed services or undermine morale. They noted Defense Secretary Roberts M. Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen support repeal and have urged Congress to act before a court strikes down the policy, leaving the armed services unprepared for the change.

Mrs.Pelosi cast the vote as an opportunity "to close the door on a fundamental unfairness in our nation" that has resulted in 13,000 people being discharged from the military.

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