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Senate Passes ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal

Bill Clark/Roll Call
From left, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leave Reid's office to hold a news conference about the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy Saturday.

Updated 5:11 p.m.

The Senate gave final approval Saturday to repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on Saturday, delivering gay rights advocates a historic victory and sending legislation long in the making to President Barack Obama for a signature.

The bill, which had overcome a crucial procedural hurdle earlier in the day, passed on a 65-31 vote as the Senate scrambled to complete its business before Christmas.

At a press conference after the vote, Sen. Joe Lieberman, who led the repeal effort, declared Saturday to be “one of my best days in my 22 years in the Senate.”

“It was the right thing to do for our military. It was the right thing to do for our country,” the Connecticut Independent said. Lieberman’s move could help him politically — he’s up for re-election in 2012 and Roll Call Politics rates his race a Tossup.

Lieberman told reporters that Obama and his White House aides were involved in the Whip effort over the past week to rally support for the repeal bill. Obama aides Valerie Jarrett and Jim Messina had watched the vote from the Senate gallery.

The repeal effort picked up two new Republican supporters after the earlier vote — Sens. Richard Burr and John Ensign. Ensign is up for re-election in 2012.

Ensign said in a statement that he opposed the procedural vote earlier because Democrats would not allow consideration of amendments.

"[I]t is my firm belief that any American wishing to fight and potentially die for this great country ought to be able to do so regardless of sexual orientation," the Nevada Republican said. "These fine individuals should not have to hide who they are."

In a statement explaining his switch to supporting the repeal, Burr cited the nation's "generational transition."

The North Carolina Republican said while he is concerned the timing is "wrong" given two active wars, "I feel that this policy is outdated and repeal is inevitable ... [R]epealing Don't Ask Don't Tell is the right thing to do."

The Senate failed twice before to advance language repealing the Clinton-era policy, but succeeded Saturday just three days after the House passed the same measure mostly along partisan lines. The vote in the Senate included the support of eight Republicans: Burr, Ensign, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Scott Brown (Mass.), as well as retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) and freshman Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.).

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