NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2011MOTION TO PROCEEDContinued


Al FrankenU.S. Senator
[D] Minnesota, United States

Length: 21 minutes, 21 seconds


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Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise to discuss two important issues we will not have the chance to debate because we are unable to take up the Defense authorization bill.

Let me start with the need for repeal of the discriminatory don't ask, don't tell policy. We are so close to making a historic accomplishment that I think we would be able to look back on with pride. It is also simply the right thing to do. This country is long past ready for it, and it is the right thing because the don't ask, don't tell policy has been costly for our military. Treating gays and lesbians unequally because of their sexual orientation just does not make sense to me. We should not be denying gay and lesbian Americans the ability to serve our Nation simply because of who they are. We should not make them lie in order to serve.

The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mike Mullen, endorsed the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. He put it this way: I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens. For me, personally, it comes down to integrity: theirs as individuals and ours as an institution.

But as I said, this is not just about the right thing to do. The country is ready for it, and the military is ready for it. Things have changed since 1993. The country is now way ahead of us on this issue. A Washington Post/ABC News poll in February 2010 showed that 75 percent of Americans believe gay and lesbian Americans should be able to serve openly in the U.S. military--75 percent. There is almost nothing we can get 75 percent of the country to agree on these days. The country has been steadily moving in this direction for some time. In 1993, 44 percent of those surveyed favored this. It was up to 62 percent in 2001. And now we are at 75 percent. Multiple other polls reinforce this result. The country is way past being ready for this change, and so is the military.

Do we need to think carefully about how to implement repeal? Yes. That is why the Pentagon is undertaking a comprehensive review of how to implement the repeal. But is there any reason to think unit cohesion or military readiness is going to be negatively affected? No. There is simply no reason to think that. In fact, let's look to the military's own thinking on this question. A recent article in Joint Force Quarterly concluded that ``there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that unit cohesion will be negatively affected if homosexuals serve openly.'' No scientific evidence.

Let me also briefly tell you about my experience. Before I was a Senator, I did a number of USO tours over the years. On each tour, I was more and more impressed with the men and women of the military. This was between 1999 and 2006. I did seven tours. The last 4 years, I was in Iraq and Afghanistan and Kuwait. I would go with a very eclectic tour of guys and women: the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, country western artists, almost all of whom are very rightwing, and we love each other because we went on these tours.

Let me tell you about one show I did. I am not going to say what base it was. I do not want to get anybody in trouble. We did a 4-hour show. This was the fourth year we did this with the sergeant major of the Army. We did a 4-hour show because we found out the troops loved the show because it was a little bit of home. During the show, I would--I was kind of the cohost with a beautiful woman named Leeann Tweeden, and we would do comedy routines, we would introduce music, and we would introduce the cheerleaders.

I would go out and do a monologue. This is something I would do and had done for a number of years. I would go out and I would say: You know, I have done now seven USO tours, and every year I am just more and more impressed with the military, except for one thing I don't get. It is this whole don't ask, don't tell policy.

Now, it was about 28 degrees where I was talking, and there were maybe a couple thousand troops. Most of them were standing, some were in the bleachers. This was like 3 hours into the show, but they were just loving the show.

I said: But there's one thing I don't understand. It is this don't ask, don't tell policy. We all know that brave gay men and women have served in our country's uniform throughout its history, and yet we have this policy. Take, for example, General Smith.

I then pointed to the commander of the base.

I said: Now, here is one of the bravest men ever in the history of our country [Page: S7254] to don our Nation's uniform in battle, and yet he is one of the gayest men I have ever met.

And they started laughing and cheering.

I said: Now, why should General Smith have to stay in the closet when he is such a great leader? General Smith, stand up and wave.

He got up and waved, and everyone cheered. And in the bleachers there was a group of women soldiers who cheered extra loudly and waved at him, and he waved back at them.

At the very end of the show, we sang ``American Soldier'' by Toby Keith.

I don't know if you know that song. It is a beautiful song. I will always remember while doing the USO tours seeing soldiers with their arms around each other crying and singing: I don't do it for the money. I've got bills that I can't pay.

At the end of the show, the general came up and gave me this beautiful frame with an American flag that had flown over the base. He gave it to every member of our troop. When he gave it to me, he said, ``Al, keep telling those don't ask don't tell jokes. I think you may have some fans up there.'' And he pointed at those women. Later, those women came up to me and said, ``We are gay.'' And I think everybody knew it.

This was in 2006 when it was really hard for the military to recruit people, so they gave waivers out at that time. They gave waivers--moral waivers. They gave waivers for people who didn't do as well in school or didn't graduate from school. I swear, if you asked every man and woman on that base: Who would you rather have standing to your right and left, that gay man or that gay woman who has been serving with you for the last year or somebody who comes in here with a moral waiver--and many of those troops who had moral waivers served very honorably and bravely--or someone with a cognitive waiver--and many of those flourished in the military--they would say: I want that gay soldier, that lesbian soldier, who I know has been on my right and on my left.

All gay and lesbian servicemembers want is to be able to serve. Instead, people are getting kicked out of the military--people who don't need any kind of conduct waiver, people who don't need standards lowered for them in order to serve, people who are patriotic and courageous and who have vital, irreplaceable skills.

What is more, the evidence is clear from other countries that have allowed gay and lesbian citizens to serve openly in their military--and Susan Collins spoke about this today. That evidence says this will not be a problem. Ask the Israelis, ask the Canadians, and ask the British. They have all successfully implemented open service.

But it is not only that the military is ready for this change; don't ask, don't tell is just costly for the military. Thousands of willing and capable Americans with needed skills have been kicked out of the military because of this foolish policy--and this policy alone. These are soldiers, airmen, and sailors in whom we have invested time and training. We cannot afford to lose dedicated personnel with critical skills when we are engaged in two wars.

On top of that, do we want our military officers spending valuable time and resources investigating and kicking troops out of the military for being gay? The argument offered by some opponents is that this legislation goes back on the promise to take into account the comprehensive review being conducted by the Pentagon, but that is just a canard.

Let me remind you what Secretary Gates said about the review when he testified before the Armed Services Committee back in February. Secretary Gates said: I fully support the President's decision. The question before us is not whether the military prepares to make this change, but how we best prepare for it.

Not whether, but how. That process is going forward, and the provision in this bill repealing the flawed don't ask, don't tell policy does nothing to interfere with the Pentagon's process. All the provision does is repeal the existing law. It does not tell the Department of Defense how to implement the repeal.

What is more, the repeal itself doesn't even go into effect until after the Pentagon's comprehensive review is complete and the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have certified that the Department of Defense has prepared the necessary policies and regulations for implementation. They must also certify that the implementation is consistent with military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention.

To be honest, I am not fully satisfied with that compromise. I wanted a moratorium on discharges. But that is the compromise, and it doesn't undercut the Pentagon's review in any way.

Don't ask, don't tell makes no sense. It is foolish, it is unjust, and we must end it. The country is ready, the military is ready, and it is the right thing to do. I urge all of my colleagues to stand for equality and for common sense and to stand for our troops. It is long past time to end don't ask, don't tell. We will be proud that we did.

Let me turn to the DREAM Act, which also would have come up if we had been able to get cloture and move to the Defense authorization bill.

Minnesota is what it is today because we welcomed immigrants with open arms. We welcomed the Swedes, who first tilled our fields and built our railroads. We welcomed the Norwegians, who thrived in our lumber industry and founded choirs that remain the best in the world today. We welcomed the Danes, who made our State a leader in dairy farming. We welcomed the Germans, the Finns, the Poles, and the Czechs.

In fact, from the time we were admitted to the Union in 1858 until 1890, no less than one-third of Minnesotans were born abroad. Today, most of the people we welcome don't come from Europe. They don't speak Swedish or German. They speak Spanish or Hmong or Somali, and they are not one-third of our population. Just 7 percent of Minnesotans were born abroad. So there are far fewer immigrants in Minnesota by percentage. Mr. President, let me tell you, these folks work just as hard and they show just as much promise.

I rise to speak in support of the DREAM Act because just by passing this law we can do something remarkable to help those Minnesotans--at least some of them. This is a group of young people who were brought here by their parents. They were raised as Americans and, for the most part, speak English just like you and I. But because their parents made a mistake, because their parents broke the law and entered the country illegally, or overstayed a visa, these kids are stuck. They can't go to college.

They can't get jobs. They can't join our military. They are out of luck, and our society is going to pay for it.

The DREAM Act would allow these students to reenter society, to come out of the shadows of society to study or to serve in our country's military.

I want to put faces to the young people of Minnesota who would benefit from the DREAM Act. I am going to change their names to protect their identity.

There is a young man named Daniel. Daniel came to the United States from Colombia when he was 8. He grew up in the suburbs, and he ran varsity track and cross-country for his high school. Since he couldn't get a driver's license, he took a 2-hour bus ride every day just to get to classes at Normandale Community College. In his second year, Daniel's father died, leaving Daniel and his mother without any income.

Daniel almost dropped out, but he didn't. Instead, he became the first member of his family to graduate from college, with dual associate degrees in education and computer science--both with honors. Daniel is now at the University of Minnesota. He is trying to get his bachelor's degree. But since he can't work, he can't afford to attend school full time. So every semester, Daniel saves up all of his money to take just one class. He is completing his bachelor's one class at a time.

There is another remarkable young Minnesotan, Javier, who came to this country at the age of 15. He enrolled in St. Paul High School and quickly learned English, and by his senior year was taking advanced placement and college courses and volunteering at the State capitol. He even started to like the weather in Minnesota.

Today, Javier is an elected leader of student government at a college in our [Page: S7255] State. He has become a role model not just for immigrants but for all his fellow students. Javier wants to dedicate his career to improving our educational system. But because of the decision his parents made, he can't.

I get letters from students like these all the time. Many of them are just as talented, and they all ask me for the same thing: the opportunity to work hard for this country. Let me repeat that: They only ask for the opportunity to work hard for this country.

Another young woman wrote me to ask: We do not want welfare or any money. We are not asking for immunity to the law. We are only asking for a chance to come out to the light and live like any other person.

There are a lot of reasons we should help them. The first reason is that it is the smart thing to do. Some of my colleagues have stood here and said they couldn't believe the DREAM Act might be included in the Defense authorization bill.

In fact, the Defense Department has supported the DREAM Act since the Bush administration. This bill is actually a part of our Nation's strategic defense plan--hence, the Defense authorization bill. It will incentivize and reward students to wear our Nation's uniform, and our Nation will be safer because of it.

Here is another reason this is smart. We don't want kids like Javier doing dishes. We don't want kids like Daniel taking 10 years to get their bachelor's degree. We want them studying, contributing to our economy, and serving in our military. But there is a far more important reason we should pass the DREAM Act, and that is because it is the right thing to do.

Mr. President, there is a passage in Leviticus--a book that appears in both the Old Testament and the Torah--which I think is appropriate. Leviticus is a book of laws. It is said to describe God's covenant with the Israelites. This is chapter 19, verse 33: When the foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the foreigner. The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the foreigner as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.

Mr. President, these are children, and we need to help them. They have learned in our schools, they have played with our kids, and they want to serve our country. We just need to give them a chance.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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