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Prospects Look Bright For 'Don't Ask' Repeal

Supporters of repeal of the 17-year-old ban on openly gay American service members were struggling Friday not to engage in irrational exuberance.

But by midday it was becoming increasingly certain that a Senate repeal measure, currently scheduled for a vote on Saturday, had attracted enough Republican support to pass the crucial 60-vote threshold needed to avoid a threatened GOP filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will hold the test vote Saturday on stand-alone legislation that would lead to the end of the controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy. If successful, a final vote would be held over the weekend -- possibly as early as Saturday.

The House earlier this week voted to end the policy.

Repeal advocates say they expect to get 56 of the 57 Democratic votes in the Senate, as well as the votes of the two independent senators and at least four Republicans. That puts the number of pro-repeal votes at 62, two more than needed to survive the test vote known as cloture.

If DADT survives the test vote, a final vote requiring the support of only a simple majority of the upper chamber's 100 senators would likely be held over the weekend.

"It's unclear whether a final vote would be [Saturday] or Sunday -- we have no sense on that," said one top Senate aide deeply involved in the issue. "But we are very confident we are going to win this."

The bill was raised in the Senate by independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican Susan Collins of Maine after repeal efforts failed to survive as part of the annual defense bill.

The Republicans lined up to support the measure are Olympia Snowe of Maine; Scott Brown of Massachusetts; and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. All confirmed their support Friday.

"Indeed she is," said Murkowski's spokesman Michael Brumas, when asked if his boss as still a "yes" vote. He added: "And she'll vote for final passage, too."

Republican senators considered potential "yes" votes on repeal include Richard Lugar of Indiana and George Voinovich.  A spokesman for Indiana Republican Richard Lugar told NPR Friday that the senator "is inclined to vote for it."

Democratic leaders say the only senator in their caucus likely to vote against repeal is newly elected Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who replaced the late Sen. Robert Byrd.  Sen. Jim Webb, a Virginia Democrat, was also an unknown, although advocates noted that he had a "positive reaction" to a recent Pentagon report that concluded repeal would have little effect on military readiness or unit cohesion.

Byrd, who once supported the ban on openly gay service members, came to support repeal before his death in June.

If repeal passes the Senate, it will not become effective immediately. The president and military leaders have to "certify" the change after a period of what Gates and Mullen have characterized as training and preparation of military leaders and service members. Once certified by the president, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen, the president would notify the House and Senate Armed Services Committee, and repeal would become effective 60 days later.

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Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.