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Sen. Ensign to support ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal: source (UPDATED)

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UPDATE: In a statement, Jennifer Cooper, an Ensign spokesperson, said the senator is awaiting the upcoming Pentagon working group report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and testimony from military service chiefs before making a decision on the issue. Additionally, she said Ensign intends to examine “all the merits” of the defense authorization bill before committing to a vote one way or another and is hoping for a “fully open amendment process.”

The complete statement follows:

“Senator Ensign is waiting on the report from the Pentagon and the testimony of the military chiefs to see if any changes to this policy can or should be done in a way so as not to harm the readiness or war fighting capabilities of our troops. Also, he plans to review all of the merits of the Defense Authorization bill before voting one way or another; hopefully it will be a fully open amendment process.”

Additionally, the Blade obtained a copy of Ensign’s constituent letter on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Notably, the letter states that the senator believes that Americans “regardless of the sexual orientation” should be able to “fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation.”

Still, the letter states that “major changes to personnel structure” during a time of war “could be a major distraction” to the troops’ ability to complete their mission.

The complete letter follows:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” I value the opinions of every Nevadan and am always grateful to those who take the time to inform me of their views.

As you may be aware, during the Clinton Administration, Congress enacted new laws and regulations regarding homosexuals and service in the U.S. military. This compromise, commonly known as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” holds that service members are not to be asked about nor allowed to discuss their sexual orientation. The law also states that any uniformed individual is subject to discharge for engaging in, attempting to engage in, or soliciting prohibited conduct.

It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation. As a nation currently engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus of all decisions affecting military readiness, recruiting and retention, and unit cohesion should be to maximize the success of ongoing operations. Major changes to personnel structure while forces are undergoing intense training and being deployed to combat operations could be a major distraction and could degrade our troops’ ability to successfully complete the mission.

On February 2, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called for a Department of Defense review of the policy. That review is expected to be completed in December of this year. I believe completing that review is necessary before further action is taken so that the concerns of our service members can be fully understood and addressed. All four of the military service chiefs have requested that the results of the review be in hand before legislative action is taken. As you may know, a federal judge in California recently attempted to supersede this process and ruled in court that the military must stop enforcing “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The Department of Justice has stated that it will appeal this ruling. I strongly oppose over-reaching by activist judges and believe that, once the DoD review is complete, the future of the military policy must be carefully considered by the Congress.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2011 contains a provision repealing the policy and was recently submitted for consideration by the Senate. The NDAA is traditionally a piece of legislation to which defense-related amendments can be offered, and each provision is extensively debated and considered. Had the NDAA come to the floor, the Senate then would have been able to debate the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Unfortunately, Democrats attempted to use this year’s NDAA as a vehicle for non-defense-related provisions and refused to allow an open and fair bipartisan amendment process. As a result, I voted against consideration of the bill and it did not come to the Senate floor. The NDAA can still be brought to the floor during the lame duck session this year, but Democrats have announced their top three priorities for legislation after the elections and national defense did not make the list.

As a former member of the Senate Armed Service Committee and Ranking Member of its Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, I assure you that I have the utmost respect for those men and women of our nation who choose to serve in the Armed Forces. I believe it is important to weigh competence, courage, and willingness to serve above all for those enlisting in the military. Please rest assured that I will keep your concerns, and the concerns of all Nevadans, in mind. Thank you, again, for sharing your thoughts with me. Please feel free to contact me in the future on matters of importance to you. Should you have any other questions or comments, please do not hesitate to either write or e-mail me via my website at http://ensign.senate.gov.

—————–

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) wants to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intends to vote in favor of moving forward with defense budget legislation containing a provision that would end the law, according to the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada.

Laura Martin, communications director for the club, said she and other activists on Thursday met with Margot Allen, Ensign’s regional representative on military issues, who informed the group of Ensign’s opposition to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and intention to vote for the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains repeal language.

“The first question was about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and his staffer said he supports repeal,” Martin said. “We asked her to clarify three times and she said he will vote in the affirmative on the defense authorization with ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal in it.”

Martin said the question they asked was based on the condition that the vote would come up in December after the Pentagon working group completes its report on implementing repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“We said after Dec. 1, when that report is out, and the defense authorization act is up for a vote with the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ will the senator vote in the affirmative to pass it?” Martin said. “And she said, ‘He will.’ And we asked her to clarify that two more times and she said, ‘Yes, he wants it repealed.'”

Calls to Ensign’s office weren’t returned on short notice.

Ensign voted against the cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the defense authorization bill in September. During the summer, the Nevada senator told the Washington Blade in a brief exchange on Capitol Hill that he has “concern” about repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” However, Ensign said this concern was based on Congress acting before the Pentagon working group report was complete.

“The problem is you can’t go out and say to the military chiefs, ‘We’re going to survey you and see what you all think,’ and then you pass the bill to repeal it,” Ensign said at the time. “So the study should come first and then you can talk about the repeal or not of [‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’]. So, yes, it is a concern simply because the study’s not done.”

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Out Vermont state senator wins Democratic primary race

Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress

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Screenshot via Becca Balint for Congress

The Green Mountain State’s state Senate president pro tempore has won the Democratic nomination for the state’s at-large congressional seat, the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Becca Balin is running to succeed U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Tuesday’s victory makes her likely to become the first woman and openly LGBTQ+ person to represent the heavily Democratic state in Congress if elected in November. Vermont is the only state that has never had a female member of its congressional delegation.

The VTDigger, a statewide news website, reported; “Balint, 53, is the first openly gay woman elected to the Vermont Senate and the first woman to serve as its president. The former middle school teacher and stay-at-home mother won her first political contest in a race for her southeastern Vermont Senate seat in 2014

She rose quickly through the ranks of the Democrat-controlled chamber, becoming majority leader in 2017, at the start of her second term. Four years later, in 2021, she was elected pro tem — the top position in the Senate.”

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Lindsey Graham: Same-sex marriage should be left to the states

Republican senator says issue a distraction from inflation

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Sen. Lindsey Graham said he still thinks the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, said Sunday he still thinks the issue of gay nuptials should be left to the states.

Graham made the remarks during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in a rare televised bipartisan debate with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as the Senate was in the middle of voting on amendments for the Inflation Reduction Act.

When discussing the 6-3 conservative majority of the Supreme Court, Graham said consistent with the recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade justices could overturn other precedents, such as the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.

Asked point blank if he was saying it should be overturned, Graham said “no, I’m saying that I don’t think it’s going to be overturned.” Graham, however, had an infection his voice, suggesting same-sex marriage could be undone.

“Nor should it be?” asked Bash.

“Well, that would be up to the court,” he responded, then added: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage, and states should be decide the issue of abortion.”

When Bash brought up another case, Loving v. Virginia, the 1965 case that overturned states bans on interracial marriage, and asked if that should be revisited as well, Graham replied, “no.”

Graham quickly moved on to tamp down any expectation the would address the issue of same-sex marriage, saying fears the court would revisit the issue are unfounded and meant as a distraction from issues such as inflation.

“But if you’re going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I’m going to say no,” Graham added.

Graham’s remarks are consistent with what he told the Washington Blade in 2015 when asked about same-sex marriage as the issue was being adjudicated by the Supreme Court. However, they contrast to his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment that was pending before Congress during the Bush administration and would have made a ban on same-sex marriage nationwide part of the U.S. Constitution. Graham was not asked about his views on now defunct idea of an amendment during the CNN interview.

h/t The Independent

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