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November 25, 2014

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Senate drums out DREAM Act; expected to OK gays in military

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John Ensign

After a series of Saturday morning votes, the DREAM Act is dead, and a repeal of the 17-year "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy against gays serving openly in the military is all but guaranteed to pass when the Senate votes on final passage at 3 p.m. Eastern time today.

Which means for Nevadans, the only question that remains is how John Ensign, their Republican senator, will vote.

Six Republicans joined the whole Democratic caucus (save for West Virginia's new Senator Joe Manchin, who was a no-show), to vote for a procedural motion to take up the bill.

Ensign wasn't one of them. But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll vote against the bill itself.

Ensign says he voted against the procedural motion to take up the bill because Democrats weren’t allowing amendments to the legislation, and he had hoped to have a chance to vote for an amendment offered by Sen. John McCain that would have required Defense Secretary Robert Gates to get the rubber stamp of all four chiefs of the service branches before the policy could be repealed.

The bill itself is just an authorization to repeal the policy — it still depends on Gates’s final word. While Gates supports a repeal, the service chiefs are divided over whether a repeal is the right thing to do in wartime.

That’s the same conundrum that’s plaguing Ensign, and has still got him undecided, even as the clock ticks down to decision time.

“This is not an easy vote for me, because my personal feeling is that it should be repealed; and if it was peacetime, there would be no question," he said Saturday, following the procedural vote.

"The difficulty is what the service chiefs talked about, the Marine commandant, and that we're at war,” he continued. “And when 60 percent of the Marines that are out there, in the field, fighting says that would be disruptive — those are the things that are weighing on me."

Democrats cheered the passage of the cloture motion as a victory for civil rights, and thanked the six Republicans — Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins of Maine — a chief sponsor of the bill with Joe Lieberman, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio, for joining them.

“This is one of those moments in our history when we stepped up and squared our policies with the values this nation was founded upon," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "I applaud those Republicans who have joined us to repeal this policy, and hope that even more will join us on the right side of history when we complete our work, and end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

So how will Ensign vote? Check back here in about an hour.

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