Washington, D.C. — Nevada Senator Harry Reid delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon as Republicans continue to play political games with critical national security needs and ignore the advice of our military leaders, who are urging Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Discrimination has never served America well. When it applies to those who serve America in the Armed Forces, it is both disgraceful and counterproductive.
“The theory behind ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a thing of the past, and we should put the policy behind us too. It’s obsolete. It’s embarrassing. It weakens our military and it offends the very values we ask our troops to defend.
“We need to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in the United States, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcomed.
“If that were the only argument – that it is the right thing to do – it would be enough. But that’s not the only reason we should repeal it.
“Repealing it will make our military stronger. It doesn’t make America safer to discharge troops with critically needed skills – and that is exactly what has happened. This policy is responsible for the discharge of nearly 14,000 highly qualified servicemen and -women. And we will never know how many wanted to sign up but stayed away because of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’
“It doesn’t make us stronger to limit military readiness of an all-volunteer force. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ doesn’t help morale; it hurts it.
“The other side may feel passionately that our military should sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation, but they are clearly in the minority. And they have run out of excuses.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff supports repealing it. So does the Secretary of Defense. The vast majority of the military said it would accept its repeal. The majority of Americans support repealing it, too.
“And there is simply no evidence and no justification – legal, military or otherwise – for keeping this policy in place. There is no reason to keep American citizens from fighting for the country they love because of whom they love.
“The next Speaker of the House has asked why we would get into this debate during a time of two wars and ongoing security concerns. I think wartime is exactly the right time to do everything we can to strengthen the military.
“What opponents of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ really don’t want to ask is what this policy tells us about the equality between our principles and practices. We can no longer ask our troops to die for a flag that represents justice and ask them to be false to themselves while they do it.
“The other side knows it doesn’t have the votes to take this repeal out of the Defense Authorization Act, so they’re holding up the whole bill.
“But when they refuse to debate it, they also hold up the many other good, important and urgently needed parts of that bill.
“The bill before us contains an across-the-board pay raise for all the members of our military. More than just that, it reauthorizes over 35 different bonuses and special pay incentives that our troops depend on to make ends meet.
“Let me be clear: failure to pass this bill means our troops will lose these benefits.
“The bill also contains provisions that would expand health care for troops and their families and significantly enhance mental health care for service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It would fund critical troop protection needs, such as MRAPs and up-armored Humvees, which are desperately needed on the battlefield.
“And it would support critical missions in Afghanistan, including expanding intelligence collection efforts, disrupting Taliban finances, and building the Afghan National Army so that Afghanistan can take responsibility for their own security.
“These are not minor or unimportant issues. These are life-and-death matters for real Americans risking their lives in our defense.
We ask our troops to trust us, and fight for us, and to be brave enough to stand in the line of fire.
“When we send our troops into battle, we do so because we believe strongly enough that we stand on the right side of history. We have to believe that, because we know the consequences of war, and the terrible burdens its carries.
“There is a cemetery just two miles southeast of where we stand right now, on the banks of the Anacostia River. It’s the final resting place of veterans of every war this nation has fought. It is also where 19 United States Senators, more than 70 Congressmen, a former Speaker of the House and a former Vice President are buried.
“One tombstone there belongs to an Air Force Sergeant who fought in Vietnam. He became famous shortly after that war ended when he tried to be in the military and out of the closet at the same time. He lost that fight.
“His tombstone reads: ‘When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.’
“America is better than that. When it comes to equality in the military, we know which side is the right side of history. The only question is whether we’re brave enough to stand there.
“In a few moments, I will move to reconsider the motion to proceed to this bill. This legislation is critical for our troops, and it would be unconscionable to leave here without passing it.
“I have bent over backwards to find a way to get this bill done. But it is clear that Republicans – led by a couple of Senators who simply do not want to have a vote on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – are doing everything they can to stand in the way.
“They want to block a vote on this issue at all costs, even if it means we do not pass a Defense Authorization bill for the first time in 48 years. And even if it means our troops do not get the funding and the protections they need.
“What we have gone through to try to get this bill to the floor reminds me of a story from when I was a boy, about eleven years old.
“I had never been anyplace – certainly not more than about 50 miles from Searchlight. My brother Dale, who was ten years older than me, graduated from high school and got a job in Ashfork, Arizona.
“I went and stayed with him for a few days. He had a girlfriend, so I ended up spending most of the time I was there with her little brother.
“We played a lot of games, but every game we played, I never beat him, because he kept changing the rules. I think that’s about what’s happened here with this bill.
“I have already tried to bring the bill to the floor twice this year. In fact I offered to bring it up this summer with no restrictions. But Republicans refused this request.
“Because my friends on the other side of the aisle blocked both of these attempts, we are now trying to get this bill done in a lame duck session, when everybody knows we still have much to do and that we do not have time for unlimited debate.
“But I have tried my best to find a way forward that would ensure a fair and reasonable opportunity for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to offer and vote on amendments.
“Over the last twenty years, we’ve had roll call votes on an average of 12 amendments during consideration of the Defense Authorization bill.
“So, in an effort to be as fair as possible, I made clear to my colleagues that I am willing to vote on 15 relevant amendments of their choosing, with 10 from the Republican side, and 5 from the Democratic side, with ample time for debate on each amendment.
“Now my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are demanding even more time. The time that they know isn’t available. There are not enough days in this calendar year to do what the minority is asking, and they know this.
“They want the tax and the spending bills done before they will allow us to move to the Defense bill.
“At the same time they say we need to wait, they say they need as much time as possible to consider this bill. It isn’t possible to do both.
“It’s quite clear they are trying to run out the clock and just don’t want to get this bill done.
“I want to be clear that my remarks should in no way be taken as a criticism of my colleague from Maine, Senator Collins. Quite the contrary.
“I have tremendous respect for Senator Collins, who is often the only Republican willing to work with us to try to move forward on many of our nation’s top priorities. She has been trying her best. But at the same time members of her Caucus are working equally as hard to defeat this measure at all costs.
“In my effort to get this done, I don’t know how I could have been more reasonable.
“But despite the critical importance for our troops, for our nation, and for justice that we get this bill done, we have not been able to reach an agreement.
“And I regret to say that it is our troops who will pay the price for our inability to overcome partisan political posturing.”