Today was filled with historic votes:
- the 9/11 Health Bill was passed unanimously by the Senate,
- the Senate ratified the New START Treaty 71-26, and
- President Barack Obama signed into law the repeal of the United States Defense Department’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Many of you probably remember the exchange earlier this year when Lt. Dan Choi gave Harry Reid his West Point ring and said he wouldn’t take it back until DADT was repealed. Today, Reid gave him the ring back. Powerful video.” (John Marshall – Talking Point Memo)
Reaction by the David A. Harris (NJDC) to these three historic events follows the jump.
The Invocation at the DADT Repeal Signing was given by Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff.
Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff is a consultant on interfaith values and interreligious affairs; a former line officer who served in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, followed by assignments with Naval Intelligence before attending rabbinical school; a retired Navy Chaplain who earned the Defense Superior Service Medal for his work with military and civilian leaders throughout Europe, Africa, and the Mid-East while serving as the Command Chaplain for the U.S. European Command; and a former National Director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee. From June 2005 to June 2006, he served as Special Assistant (for Values and Vision) to the Secretary and Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Air Force, with the equivalent military rank of Brigadier General. Headquartered in the Pentagon, this appointment took him to Air Force bases in more than ten countries around the world, including those in Iraq, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. On June 16, 2006, Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne presented him with the USAF Decoration for Exceptional Civilian Service–the highest award that the Air Force can present to a civilian. In addition to rabbinic ordination, he has three masters degrees, in International Relations, Strategic Studies and National Security Affairs, and Rabbinics, and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep Todd Platts (R-PA) were the only Republican Congressmen in attendance.
— David A. Harris
Senate Passes 9/11 Health Bill
The Senate voted to pass a bill that would “cover the cost of medical care for rescue workers and others who became sick from breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.”
The New York Times reported:
The vote, passed by unanimous consent, came soon after a deal was reached between conservative Republicans and Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The New York Democrats agreed to changes demanded by the conservative lawmakers, who raised concerns about the measure’s cost and prevented the bill from advancing in the Senate. After drawing criticism in recent days from Democrats and Republicans alike, the Republican senators backed down.
NJDC, alongside so many others in the American Jewish community, was a vocal advocate for health care reform in our country. We applaud the Senate for taking yet another step forward in improving our health care system and honoring the brave men and women who risked their lives to save the lives of others. NJDC also thanks Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for their unwavering commitment to see this important bill passed.
Today’s ratification of the New START treaty by the Senate is yet another step forward in securing our country and helping to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. While the treaty’s effects on strengthening the U.S.-Russia relationship are significant and monumental in their own right, the New START treaty will ultimately bolster the ability of the United States and Russia to jointly confront Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
With Iran at the top of the pro-Israel agenda, NJDC was at the forefront of urging the American Jewish community to lend a voice to the debate over the treaty. In mid-November NJDC issued a statement to community leaders saying ‘The time has come for those in the American Jewish community who care deeply about confronting Iran to help pass START now. We can do no less, and we have no time to wait.’ We are proud that our communal effort helped to shine light on the importance of ratifying this crucial treaty.
We commend President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for their leadership in making New START a top priority, and we applaud the Democratic Senate leadership – working together with key Republicans, including Senator Richard Lugar – for pushing forward the effort to ratify the treaty despite opposition and excuses from a small Republican minority who defiantly stood against the recommendations of our military leadership. Ultimately, Senators on both sides of the aisle understood the importance of ratifying this treaty for our own security – and that it will help to continue our efforts to protect the global community from a nuclear-armed Iran.”
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Signing
With the East Room and other key real estate at the White House taken up with holiday decorations and tours, this morning’s presidential signing of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 has been moved a few blocks away to the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of the Interior. The auditorium is packed with a who’s-who of the leadership within the gay rights and civil rights communities, and a wide array of figures who were essential in bringing about this long, long overdue policy change-including many key members of the House and Senate. The moving opening invocation-delivered by Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff-reminded us all of the many who had served before who had to hide their identities. President Barack Obama received nothing short of a star welcome, replete with chants of “yes we can” and shouts of thanks from the gathered crowd. The President spoke about the critical and historic nature of this moment, and he praised at length all of those who helped to bring this moment about-including the leadership of our military, and especially Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen who was on hand for the signing. As the President said just before signing, we are not a nation that says “don’t ask, don’t tell”-we are a nation that believes all are created equal. And as he firmly declared to cheers as he completed his signature, “This is done.”
Much ink has been spilled about the state of relations between President Obama and the GLBT community-perhaps as much as has been used in writing about relations between the White House and the Jewish community. But this morning the President made good on yet another key campaign pledge, as he helped our nation make another significant stride forward in civil rights and equality. Before long, openly gay and lesbian service members who wish to stand in defense of their country will be able to do so-making this a good day indeed.
Today’s vote to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy that prohibited gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans from serving openly in our nation’s armed forces is truly historic. The repeal sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. We applaud President Barack Obama for shining a bright light on this issue, and we commend the leadership of both the House and Senate for protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans.
This legislative step was a demonstration that good policy-doing the right thing-can also make for good politics. Indeed, Saturday’s vote to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” is truly historic. This step sends a clear message that any willing and able American can and should be allowed to proudly serve our country. As a world leader, it was appalling that we allowed legal and public discrimination to take place against some of the brave men and women who volunteered to serve their country on the field of battle. President Obama-and the House and Senate leadership-are to be commended for shining a bright light on this issue, and for their leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. And when history looks back at the naysayers who tried to block the march of progress-those like Sen. John McCain, who would not accept the verdict of the top leaders of today’s military, let alone the voices of the clear majority of those serving both in and out of uniform-it will not be kind.