Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Historic Victory on DADT, The Dream Act Falls, Jon Stewart Takes Aim on 9/11 Relief, START Wrangling Over Missile Defense

Don't Ask Don't Tell Will Be No More
At long last, gay members of our United States military will be allowed to serve openly without fear of reprisal. No more will we lose Arabic translators simply because of their sexual orientation. No more will our war heroes be fired in disgrace because of their family lives. No more will the military be a haven of discrimination. This is a great day for the United States of America.

I have often said that gay rights are the civil rights battle of our time. Today is a victory in that battle. Today is a victory for our military. Not just the thousands of gay troops who, at long last, will be able to proudly serve their country without being forced to conceal who they are. Not just for the boost that military recruiting will get by being able to actively recruit gay enlistees who would have shunned service in the past because of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. No, this is a victory for every member of the military, who can be proud to serve in an armed forces free of discrimination that is taking a forceful stand against bigotry.

This victory was a long time in coming and deserves the celebration and pride of the American people.

The key vote on cloture passed by a resounding 63-33 vote, with all present Democrats joining both Independents and 6 Republicans in favoring the measure (Joe Manchin, the newly elected conservative Democratic Senator from West Virginia, was rumored to have opposed the measure, but was not present for the vote.)

I'd like to recognize the six Republicans that showed the political courage to do the right thing in spite of intense pressure on the Republican side of the aisle to vote no. Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Lisa Murkowski, Mark Kirk, Scott Brown and George Voinovich bucked their party to be on the right side of history. Good for them...while Voinovich is retiring from the Senate, the other 5 will face the potential of primary challenges and still stood to their convictions. It is gratifying to see that the pronouncements of the death of the moderate are far overstated.

I'd also like to commend Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman for his tireless leadership on this issue. Joe can rankle the Democratic leadership from time to time, but he has shown himself to be a true patriot. Let's hope the voters in Connecticut don't forget this in 2012.

This change in policy will never be repealed...progress marches on in spite of the resistors. It's a shame that there are 33 Senators that chose to be on the wrong side of history. Perhaps most disappointing was Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who at one time at least open to discussing progress on this issue. I guess his transformation from maverick to party hack is complete.

The DREAM Act Fails
The DREAM Act, a bill to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who entered the country illegally as children and served in the US military a path to citizenship will not become law, at least this year. The cloture vote failed with only 55 of the required 60 Senators needed to break a filibuster voting in the affirmative. 50 Democrats, both independents and 3 Republicans voted for the bill, but could not overcome the opposition of 5 Democrats and 36 Republicans voting "nay" (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat were not present at the vote.)

I had written earlier in the week that I did not see how the math could work to get to 60, so the fact that this vote failed is no great surprise to me, but it is a shame. I hope the next Congress will tackle the issue of immigration comprehensively, but I'm not holding my breath.

Jon Stewart Targets GOP Filibuster on 9/11 Bill
The bill to provide medical benefits and compensation to 9/11 first responders, which had been caught up in the GOP promise to filibuster all legislation became the target Thursday night of Jon Stewart's ire on the Daily Show. Jon had firefighters and police officers who were 9/11 first responders and had suffered ill medical effects as a result of working in the debris on his show to discuss their disappointment in Congress not acting.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also spoke on the show, calling on the GOP to support passage of the bill.

My hope is certainly that with the tax bill resolved, the GOP will remove its opposition to the 9/11 first responders bill and that the Senate will find a way to pass the bill this year (the House has already passed it.)

START and Missile Defense
GOP concerns around the new START treaty appear to be centering around its potential implication on missile defense. Specifically, they cite that the preamble, in their eyes, appears to state that future missile defense systems could give Russia the right to withdraw from the treaty. The actual text of the preamble is below:

"Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties,.."

The GOP concern centers around the use of the word "current", seeing the implication that "future" strategic defensive arms initiatives could be viewed to undermine the viability of the initiative. John McCain has proposed an amendment to the preamble that would change the preamble.

The preambles of treaties are explanatory statements that are non-binding legally but often express the understanding of the countries as to how the treaties will be interpreted. From this point of view, McCain's argument has some merit. But the Senate adjusting wording in a carefully negotiated treaty is walking on a knife's blade at the very least.

The vote on the McCain amendment is scheduled for this afternoon. I don't have a lot of intelligence on its odds of passage, but my guess will be that it will not, as most Democrats will not want to change wording in the treaty in a way that could damage Russian support for the measure.

Next up...back to the numbers as I update Obama's popularity tracking and assess several of the early polls in the 2012 race.

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