In a surprising move, after voting against cloture earlier in the day, Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.) and Sen. John Ensign (R., Nev.) both voted to repeal the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on homosexuality. The measure passed by a 65–31 margin this afternoon. Other Republicans voting in favor of repeal: Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Sen. Scott Brown (Mass.), Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and the Maine ladies, Sen. Olympia Snowe and Sen. Susan Collins.
Burr said it was not a difficult vote to cast, despite his state’s being home to Camp Lejeune, the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast. Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, had been one of the most high-profile opponents of repeal. “Hopefully we all think independently here and we listen; we don’t have to be lobbied or influenced,” he said.
Burr told reporters that he supported repeal because “this is a policy that generationally is right,” but said he “didn’t necessarily agree” with those who have characterized the issue as a civil-rights struggle.
“A majority of Americans have grown up at a time [when] they don’t think exclusion is the right thing for the United States to do,” Burr said. “It’s not the accepted practice anywhere else in our society, and it only makes sense.”
Burr explained that he voted against cloture because he “vehemently objected to making a policy change of this magnitude at this time . . . when we’ve got troops deployed.” He also wished Republicans had been allowed to offer amendments to the bill.
“Even though this bill has now passed, it should never be enacted immediately,” he said, expressing concern over how and when the bill would go into effect. Burr said he hoped the implementation process would address his concerns and those of military officials, like General Amos, who had come out against repeal. “The speed with which this was done ignores their input and their concerns,” he said.
After he left the Capitol, Burr’s office issued this statement:
“Given the generational transition that has taken place in our nation, I feel that this policy is outdated and repeal is inevitable. However, I remain convinced that the timing of this change is wrong, and making such a shift in policy at a time when we have troops deployed in active combat areas does not take into consideration the seriousness of the situation on the ground. But, the vote this morning to invoke cloture on this bill indicated that the broader Senate was prepared to move forward with a change, and despite my concerns over timing, my conclusion is that repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is the right thing to do.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) told National Review Online he wasn’t surprised by Burr’s vote. And though he echoed his colleague’s concerns about bringing up the issue during a lame-duck session and in a time of war, Corker suggested that under different circumstances and after greater consideration, more Republicans would have supported repeal.
“It was something people knew was going to happen,” Corker said, pointing out that apart from Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.), few other Republicans put up much of a fight to stop repeal. “You didn’t really see anybody in there talking about it much, right? It wasn’t impassioned at all.”
Ensign, for his part, departed quietly:
Before the vote, Ensign said the choice for him was a struggle between what he personally thought was the right thing to do, and the circumstantial concerns of various military chiefs.
That’s why, he explained, he had voted against taking up the measure.
But in the end, once the question on the table, it appeared personal conviction won out over political circumstance. “My personal feeling is that it should be repealed,” he’d said before the 65-to-31 vote.
Ensign left the Senate chamber quickly and quietly . . .