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Reid says language to end 'don't ask' will be part of annual defense bill

By Ed O'Keefe
Thursday, November 18, 2010; A10

The Senate next month will again consider an end to the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy banning gays from openly serving in uniform, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said Wednesday.

Reid said language to end the 17-year-old ban on gays in the military will be part of the annual defense authorization bill, which sets Pentagon policy and funding.

In a key concession to moderate Republicans seeking a fair debate on the measure, Reid is expected to allow senators of both parties to offer amendments to the bill, aides said. The move could lead to the support of at least some senators who have said they would vote to end the ban if Reid permits them to offer amendments.

The decision was announced during a Capitol Hill meeting Wednesday that gathered Reid, gay rights leaders and senior White House aides, and it comes as the Obama administration intensifies its efforts to ensure that the ban is ended this year.

The administration has faced months of complaints from gay rights groups who say President Obama is not doing enough to fulfill his campaign pledge on the issue.

Separately, Obama phoned Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) on Wednesday to reiterate his commitment to keeping the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in the defense bill, White House aides said. The call came after Levin had said Tuesday that he would be open to moving the defense bill without language that would end the ban.

The bill still faces significant obstacles. Conservative Republicans could block a vote on it by threatening a filibuster; Reid would then need 60 votes to overcome that threat.

And a bevy of senators will not decide how to vote on the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal until after reading a Pentagon report, due Dec. 1, on how lifting the ban could affect troop readiness and morale. The report is expected to conclude that the military could lift the ban with minimal, isolated risk, said sources who shared details last week with The Washington Post.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has signaled that he might block efforts to end the ban this year, saying that lawmakers should wait for the Pentagon to conduct further studies on the matter before voting.

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