AIPAC Breaks With GOP on Iran Sanctions

Reps. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

— by Steve Sheffey

The Kirk-Menendez bill started out as a bipartisan effort to increase pressure on Iran. It was introduced in December with 13 Democratic and 13 Republican cosponsors, amidst concerns that the clock was ticking and the interim agreement with Iran had not yet been implemented.

But once the interim agreement took effect, and after the administration shared more details about the plan, support for a vote on Kirk-Menendez began to evaporate, especially among Democrats. It began to look less like a bipartisan effort to do the right thing and more like a vehicle for Republicans to drive a wedge between pro-Israel Democrats and President Obama.

The bottom finally fell out on Thursday, when Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) and 41 other Republican senators sent a letter demanding a vote. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the bill’s co-author, responded by warning against making the bill a partisan issue.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) released a statement saying that, “We agree with the Chairman [Sen. Menendez] that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.”

More after the jump.
The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-NV), said that Iran is “a serious, serious situation. For me to receive a totally partisan letter, we should not make this a partisan issue, and that’s what 42 Republicans have done. And I think it’s wrong.”  

One of AIPAC’s core principles is that support for legislation it backs must be bipartisan. This sometimes means compromise, but AIPAC knows that the U.S.-Israel relationship could be irreparably damaged if even the perception exists that congressional policy on Israel and Iran depends on which party is in power.

Forty-two GOP senators, led by “Partisan-in-Chief” Kirk, might want a vote right now, but AIPAC does not. It must have been hard for some AIPAC leaders to stand up to Kirk, but they made the right call. AIPAC stood up against partisanship on Israel, and in favor of its principles. We cannot let anyone turn Israel or Iran into a partisan issue.

AIPAC says it remains strongly committed to the passage of Kirk-Menendez. But unlike Kirk and his Republican partisans, AIPAC opposes an immediate vote on the legislation. No vote means no passage.

There may come a time when legislation like Kirk-Menendez is appropriate, but now is not the time. AIPAC’s position is very similar to the position the National Jewish Democratic Council articulated last month.

Chemi Shalev wrote in Ha’aretz last weekend that Kirk-Menendez “had no legs and no logic to stand on.”

Some of its supporters claimed that it was meant to strengthen Obama’s hand in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, when it was clear that they meant just the opposite: to weaken the President and to sabotage the talks. They couldn’t speak this truth outright, so they surrounded it, as Churchill once said, with a bodyguard of lies.

The bill’s supporters had no rational response to the Administration’s claim that the same conditional sanctions that the bill was pushing could be legislated in a day if the talks collapsed or if Iran reneged on its commitments. They could muster only disingenuous disclaimers to the unequivocal assertion, by both Washington and Tehran, that the legislation, if approved, would contravene the Geneva agreement and bring about an Iranian walkout.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration sent a clear signal that sanctions against Iran remain in place and are enforceable during the talks, by imposing sanctions on more than 30 individuals and entities last week.

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Reform Movement Leader Shows Support of Stricter Gun Laws

In advance of the interfaith day of advocacy around gun control today, The Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging Congress to pass stricter gun laws.

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

Nearly four decades ago, in 1975, the Union for Reform Judaism recognized the need for legislation that would limit and control the sale and use of firearms. Since the adoption of that resolution, the URJ’s first calling for the regulation of firearms, more than one million Americans have been killed as a result of gun violence. The URJ has spoken out repeatedly and passionately on gun violence and continues to insist that gun regulation is a vital necessity.

Continued after the jump.
As president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the membership organization for nearly 900 Reform synagogues and 1.5 million Reform Jews in North America, I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors and urge you to support the comprehensive gun violence prevention package before Congress (S.649 / H.R. 137), which not only will require enforceable background checks, but also will curb gun trafficking and enhance school safety, making America safer while keeping the Second Amendment secure. Congress also must ensure that the bill is enforceable by requiring private sellers who sell crime guns to produce a background check — just as dealers are required to do. There’s no question that the two minutes it takes to pass a background check is a wise investment in saving lives.

I ask, too, that you support the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines (S.150 / H.R. 437), which will ban these weapons of war that have no place in our schools or on our streets. These weapons — frequently used in police killings and mass shootings — dramatically increase the number of lives lost and the damage done.

Jewish tradition mandates tikkun olam, “repair of our fractured world” — and this country’s background check system is broken indeed. This flawed system, which does not require “private sellers” to conduct background checks, easily puts weapons in the hands of the vast majority of gun criminals. It is time to fix this broken system with passage of S.649 / H.R. 137, which will extend the current background check requirements to private gun sales, with dealers conducting the checks and keeping records the same way they have done for more than 40 years. Passage of these bills is the single most meaningful step you can take to stop senseless violence, honor all who have been lost to gun violence, and bring solace to survivors. On behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism and its members across North America, I urge you to support these critical pieces of legislation.

Just as the prophet Isaiah exhorts the people of the earth to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” so too do I urge you to vote for comprehensive and enforceable background checks and to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. As elected officials, it is your moral imperative to work to solve society’s problems. This is holy work and we are counting on you to do it, helping to shape a better and more hopeful world for us all. Thank you for your consideration.


Rick Jacobs

Bust the filibuster already

When Harry Reid blames Republicans for obstruction, he neglects to mention that the Democratic majority in the Senate enables it by allowing the filibuster to persist. Now that Democrats kept their majority on Nov. 6, it is long overdue to curtail the power of the filibuster.

More after the jump.
Many factors contribute to our current economic misery — Republican abuse of the Senate filibuster, GOP control of the House of Representatives, President Obama’s inexperience and an overwhelming mess that nobody could fix in four years.

It still boils down to Harry Reid and his merry band of Senate Democrats, or some of them. Tom Harkin, Jeff Merkley and Tom Udall rate credit for attempting to rein in a historically dumb and destructive legislative mechanism.

Some weeks before Obama’s re-election, the Senate majority leader was on television relaying the latest filibuster count — 382 filibusters since the Democrats seized control of the Senate six years ago. I groaned as I listened to Reid whine: “They’ve conducted filibuster after filibuster blocking one bill after another. They’ve blocked judge after judge after judge.”

All true.

“The party trying to defeat President Obama has tried to make the president look bad.”

So far, so good.

Then, standing in the well of the Senate, Reid baldly lied: “For him (an unnamed Republican senator) to come and say the Senate is not working because of the Democrats is a big lie.”

Reid compounded this fib by adding: “Republicans are complaining about a result that they caused.”

No question that Republican behavior pre-Nov. 6 was disgusting. They employed the filibuster to block sensible legislation that they once supported…before they opposed it. Guess who handed them this kind of power, or at least allowed them to hold onto it.

Democrats had three opportunities to eliminate or curtail the power of the filibuster since they were elected to the majority in 2006. A majority of the Senate can change the body’s rules on the first day of the legislative session in early January, though some may dispute this. Democrats could have attempted such a move in 2007 and 2009, and some made a spirited effort in 2011.

Even if it was successful, the 2011 bid probably would not have worked because of Republican control of the House then. However, action against the filibuster in 2007 and 2009 would have likely made a difference then since Democrats also held the majority in the House.

Two of the most prominent measures — tax cuts for the wealthy and the “public option” for health-care reform — were blocked by the filibuster; an independent and a Democrat were among the opponents.

A health-care bill authorizing some form of a government-run health care system, a.k.a. as a “public option,” passed the House in 2009, but could not make it through the Senate.

Without the filibuster, Congress would no doubt have passed far more of its legislation aimed at combating the recession. If those measures succeeded to an appreciable degree, maybe Republicans would have had no substantial issues with which to incite voter wrath – and Democrats would not have lost control of the House in 2010.

Team Udall entered the fray in January 2011 when they proposed that any senator threatening a filibuster must present their arguments on the Senate floor. Not enough takers, even among Democrats.

Behind the scenes, Reid and GOP leader Mitch McConnell reached a deal allowing the Republicans to keep the filibuster so long as they did not abuse this power. The rest is history.

Reid himself liked the filibuster at the time, along with some other Democrats. Yet he reversed himself last May when he vindicated Team Udall’s quixotic bid to curtail the filibuster’s power. He was mad when Republicans blocked a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, Politico reported.

“If there was anything that ever needed changing in this body, it’s the filibuster rules, because it’s been abused, abused, abused,” Reid declared on the Senate floor.

A few days later, Common Cause announced a lawsuit to declare the filibuster unconstitutional because the Constitution “envisioned majority rule except where specifically stated otherwise.”

On Tuesday, Nov. 13, a New York Times editorial urged measures to curtail the filibuster’s powers when the next Senate convenes in early January.

Short-term, the filibuster may not be problematic because the election has left Republicans in a more cooperative, and humbled, mood. Still, the GOP can feel emboldened to filibuster any time, without warning, if the tide turns again.

There is nothing like the rule of law to stop bad behavior dead in its tracks. Please go for it, Sen. Reid.

Bruce S. Ticker of Philadelphia is author of the e-book George Costanza Goes to Washington which describes fault lines in the political system. Ticker can be reached at [email protected].

The Case of the Senator Who Did Not Bark

As the controversy over Mitt Romney’s tax returns continues, the one person other than Romney himself who could settle this has been completely silent. That would be Sen. John McCain, who inspected 23 years of Romney’s tax returns in 2008 when he was considering Romney as a possible running mate. All he would have to do is hold a press conference and say: “Harry Reid is wrong. I personally saw Romney’s tax returns going back over two decades and he paid federal income tax every year.” But McCain has said nothing at all at a moment he could help Romney and hurt Reid. Why? It seems very strange. Maybe Reid is right and McCain knows this.

It is also interesting the precise language the Romney campaign uses when he denies Reid’s charges. “I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes, so Harry is wrong.”

Is Romney perhaps splitting hairs and relying on the fact that he pays state sales tax, local property tax, and state income tax to obfuscate the question of whether or not he pays federal income tax?

Until we see Romney’s tax returns we have no way of telling whether Bain Capital arranged things so that Romney was able to deduct business losses to offset the already-low taxes on those gains. If true, that wouldn’t be a federal crime, but it would be unseemly, and make Romney the poster child for what is wrong in our current tax system.

Romney “Scaring Me to Death” on Paycheck Fairness Silence

— by David Streeter

This week, Senate Republicans voted unanimously against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have provided protections for women suing employers over gender-based pay discrimination. Before the vote, Senate Democratic leaders expected Republicans to vote down the bill, so the results from the Senate floor left few surprised. However, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney refused — and continues to refuse — to state whether he supported or opposed the bill.

After the vote, Democratic members of Congress sharply criticized their Republican colleagues for their vote against equal pay. But Lilly Ledbetter — whose story inspired the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — targeted Romney specifically for his silence. According to TPM:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the bill’s sponsor Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) invited Lilly Ledbetter, the face of the 2009 law, to the Capitol to make the case for the new legislation.

‘I’m telling you folks, this is a national epidemic in this country,’ Ledbetter said of unequal pay. Flanked by Reid and Mikulski, she criticized Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney for refraining from taking a stance on the bill. ‘He’s scaring me to death,’ she said. ‘We cannot let [Republicans] take away the few privileges we’re earned.’

‘Women are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore,’ said Mikulski.

More after the jump.
The Huffington Post noted that Romney and his campaign received plenty of opportunities-and time-to weigh in on the bill:

[Representative Jan] Schakowsky called it ‘perplexing’ that Romney won’t weigh in. She and other House Democrats cited numerous instances when Romney and his campaign have dodged questions on equal pay measures for women: an April 11 conference call with reporters, an interview with Diane Sawyer, five requests for comment for a story in the Washington Times.

‘It is sensible, commonsense legislation that helps right an awful wrong,’ Schakowsky said. ‘That’s why it’s so perplexing why Mitt Romney has been hiding under his desk on this issue, refusing to take a stand.’

Now that Romney is on well on his way to becoming the Republican Party’s standard bearer, will he continue to remain silent as the Republican Party continues to defend wage discrimination against women?  

Sen. Mitch McConnell Blocks Iran Sanctions Vote

— David A. Harris

The actions today by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to block a vote on new Iran sanctions represents the Republican Party’s latest failure to take sanctioning Iran seriously. First it was Republican House members voting repeatedly against amendments that would have closed loopholes and strengthened sanctions. Now, McConnell is saying that the Senate GOP needs more time to study the legislation because he and members of his party want a clear declaration over the use of force.

The President and his Administration have repeatedly been crystal clear that military force is on the table to stop Iran. Perhaps McConnell missed that our Ambassador to Israel broadly said the military option is ‘ready’ and ‘fully available’ during a recent interview.

With all due respect, I must ask Senator McConnell — what kind of message does blocking a vote on strengthening sanctions send, particularly with negotiations rapidly approaching? We know how gridlocked the Senate is; why push this critical legislation back?

Reuters report follows the jump.
Reuters reported:

U.S. Senate Republicans blocked new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil sector on Thursday, saying they needed more time to study revisions, a surprise move that drew anger from Senate Democrats who had expected unanimous approval ahead of Iran talks on May 23.

‘I feel I’ve been jerked around,’ Democratic Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor after the Republican objection.

But Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said his staff did not receive a draft of the bill until late on Wednesday night, and needed more time to make sure it was as strong as possible.

‘There is no reason in the world why we can’t resolve whatever differences we have and move forward,’ McConnell said. ‘We certainly don’t want to take a step backward, and there are members on my side of the aisle who are concerned that the way the measure is currently crafted could actually be a step in the wrong direction,’ McConnell said….

Democrats wanted to pass the proposed penalties ahead of talks between world powers and Iran next week, and had support from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

But Republicans sought a stronger statement in the bill that the use of U.S. military force was an option.

Mr. Costanza goes to Washington…and keeps the filibuster

Part 7 of American Vision by Bruce Ticker

“This is how they negotiate in the Bizarro World’
– Jerry Seinfeld to George Costanza, and perhaps to Harry Reid

Harry Reid negotiates the George Costanza way, as they do in Seinfeld’s Bizarro World.

Reid, the Senate majority leader, reached an accord with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Jan. 27, 2011, to retain the filibuster power that Republicans earlier employed to block any kind of government-run health-care system and persist with tax cuts for the wealthy.

Reid and Mitchell’s pact allows Republican senators to submit nearly all the amendments they want to a given measure, and in return Republicans will limit their use of the filibuster.

More after the jump.
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon said, “There is nothing that touches the impact of the filibuster on amendments and nothing that touches the impact on bills, so we still may see the same obstruction we’ve seen before.”

Merkley’s fears were realized on Tuesday, May 17, 2011, when Democrats proposed ending tax breaks for five major oil companies accused of unfairly padding industry profits, according to The New York Times. The measure would have passed if a majority vote was sufficient, but the 52-48 vote fell short of the 60 votes required to end debate.

Even more deplorable developments swiftly came to light. Senate Republicans have blocked the confirmations of a wide range of presidential nominees, prompting two of them to withdraw their nominations. The same GOP senators also refused to reauthorize a 46-year-old economic program which they automatically supported in the past.

On the day after the oil subsidy vote, Reid issued a fundraising e-mail distributed for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in which he complained: “It’s a no-brainer: Big Oil doesn’t need taxpayer subsidies. After all, the five largest oil companies raked in profits of $32 billion in the first quarter of 2011 – while Americans are paying four bucks a gallon at the pump. And yet, they continue to collect billions in tax dollar handouts at a time when we need to cut spending.

“It’s unfair, and MUST stop. But last night, Republicans derailed a Democratic bill that would end this double-fisted cash grab and save $21 billion.”

Another “no-brainer”: Big Senate doesn’t need a filibuster. Four months ago, Reid “derailed a Democratic bill that would end this double-fisted” power grab and save us all lots of aggravation.

Merkley was joined in January by Tom Harkin of Iowa and Tom Udall of New Mexico in a bid to “to end this double-fisted” filibuster power

Any senator can filibuster, or threaten to filibuster, proposed legislation without taking to the floor to make their case, as James Stewart did in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The Senate needs 60 votes to end a filibuster, not a plain majority of 51 votes. The process is called cloture.

The trio pressed for a resolution to require that all senators who invoke the filibuster must address the legislation on the floor. Most Democrats voted for the measure, but it could neither get past the 67-vote barrier nor even a majority vote.

On a typical day, you can compare just about any antics in the Senate to Jerry Seinfeld’s Bizarro World. Seinfeld fans should recall that George spoiled their talks with NBC to produce a show about “nothing” because he was aggrieved that their $13,000 offer fell way short of Ted Danson’s package.

Once the magnitude of his blunder dawned on him, George begged for reconsideration. NBC offered $8,000 this time.

Jerry explained to George that the idea of negotiations “is to get your price up, not down. This is how they negotiate in the Bizarro World.”

Or how Harry Reid negotiates in the Senate.

Reid has worked hard to press for legislation that would benefit the public, but how does it help anyone to hand the Republicans a decisive weapon like the filibuster?

Why? Reid in the past defended the filibuster when Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democratic senators feared losing this device if they return to the minority. Democrats also might have feared that they would be demonized by the Republicans if they curbed or ended the filibuster.

Democrats might have sustained some political damage in the short term, but they would have ensured themselves a level playing field if they took decisive action against the filibuster.

Reid’s negotiating style reflects the operational patterns in the Senate, which can also be known as Bizarro Washington World. You cannot pass a measure with a majority vote, but 41 votes – or 41 percent – can be allowed to obstruct legislation?

When Harkin, Merkley and Udall sought to revise the filibuster rule, three of their GOP counterparts intent on retaining the filibuster proved that Jimmy Stewart’s legacy for his classic, fictitious filibuster is safe.

The day prior to the debate, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander recited a quote from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington at a Heritage Foundation function on Jan. 4, 2011, that the filibuster gives a senator “the right to talk your head off.” Alexander lied his head off when he claimed that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” the Senate in March 2010. Obama and congressional Democrats repeatedly reached out to Republicans and watered down the law in hopes of ending their filibuster.

Alexander contended that a 60-vote threshold to end debate allows for a “consensus” among senators so that legislation has more broad-based support. The price for this consensus is weakening laws so they provide minimal aid to average citizens and give business interests hefty concessions.

Many jobless citizens received unemployment pay for the next 13 months because Obama acceded to Republican demands in December, 2011, to continue tax cuts for the wealthy another two years.

Both Alexander and former Sen. John E. Sununu (New Hampshire) suggested that the Constitution’s framers created the filibuster. As Harkin pointed out, the Constitution authorizes each chamber to make its own rules, not establish the rules itself. Their suggestion was made during Alexander’s televised remarks and a Boston Globe commentary written by Sununu.

Also on television, Pat Roberts of Kansas rambled on for several minutes, recalling that Democrats opposed filibuster adjustments when Republicans controlled the Senate. That must mean that two wrongs make a right.

John Cornyn of Texas crowed that anyone who tries to change Senate rules is “playing with fire.”

The filibuster issue surfaced in the public consciousness as Republicans employed the filibuster to obstruct Democratic legislation, particularly the health-care plan and elimination of tax cuts for the rich.

Earlier in 2010, hearings on the filibuster rule were held before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. Had Alexander, Roberts and Cornyn followed the proceedings, they would have learned much about the history of the Senate where they have served for a combined 30 years.

Next excerpt: A Burr (as in VP Aaron Burr) in the Senate

DADT Repeal is now Official

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.

START Treaty

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.