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|‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal stalls in U.S. Senate|
|by Lisa Keen|
|October 01, 2010 00:00|
Efforts to allow gays to serve openly in the U.S. military received a serious setback Sept. 21, when the U.S. Senate rejected a motion to break a Republican-led filibuster against an annual defense spending bill that includes language aimed at ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The vote was 56 to 43 — four votes short of ending the filibuster. Georgia’s two U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, both Republicans, voted in the majority to stymie the repeal.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called the vote a “frustrating blow.”
“We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections,” Sarvis said. “Opponents to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay.”
Sarvis expressed concern that chances for repeal will dim considerably following the midterm elections.
“We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we’ll have a slim shot,” said Sarvis. “The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us.”
The count was uncertain all the way up to the vote, as Democratic leaders were reportedly trying to negotiate an agreement with one or two senators to reach the 60-vote count they needed to proceed.
But Republicans stood united in their contention that a procedural restriction placed on consideration of the annual defense spending bill was politically motivated to win the votes of LGBT people and Latinos for the mid-term elections in November.
In the end, all seven moderate Republicans who were identified as potential supporters on the motion to proceed on the defense bill voted no, as did Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s rule called for only three amendments to be considered during discussion of the defense authorization bill this week: amendments on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” immigration, and a Senate rule on secret holds on nominations. All other amendments, he said, would be taken up after the mid-term elections.
Republican leadership immediately balked and charged Reid with playing politics with the defense bill. They refused to grant the necessary unanimous consent to proceed with consideration of the bill. So, Reid filed a motion last week to require the Senate to vote Sept. 21 on a motion to proceed without unanimous consent. That motion required 60 votes.
Reid did allow Republicans 15 minutes additional to debate the motion and enabled Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to propose a different procedure — one that would have apparently enabled unlimited amendments, the first 20 of which would have to be defense-related and none of which could relate to immigration.
Republicans had been beating a drum for the past week that two of the three amendments Reid would allow were non-defense related and shouldn’t be part of the discussion. Log Cabin Republicans, which supports repeal of DADT, issued a press release Sept. 20 calling Reid’s limit on amendments “partisan tactics” and urging Reid to allow other amendments.
But Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, disputed that argument. On the floor of the Senate Sept. 20, he itemized all the non-defense related amendments that have been considered on the defense authorization bill in previous years — ncluding years in which Republicans were in the majority. In particular, he emphasized an amendment offered in 2000 by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), on campaign reform.
Reid noted during Senate morning business Sept. 2 that the DADT amendment had been generating “all the attention” for the defense bill vote. He emphasized that the DADT law “is not repealed” by the language in the bill.
Instead, he noted, the language provides for a process by which the law can be repealed. That process requires that the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff all “certify” in writing that they have read the Pentagon report on how best to implement repeal and have considered whatever recommendations are made in the report.
They must further certify that the necessary regulations to accompany repeal have been developed and that repeal is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
Minority Leader McConnell said the cloture vote on the defense bill was a political tactic by Democrats seeking to “show special interest groups that they haven’t forgotten about them.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the most ardent opponents of DADT repeal, said he was not opposed to debating repeal but was opposed to bringing up the defense bill before the Pentagon survey of troops is completed.
“This is all about elections,” said McCain, who contended that voting Tuesday on DADT would be “ignoring” the views of the troops.
“We are pursuing the social agenda of the Democratic party.”
The White House issued a statement, through its Office of Management and Budget, the day of the vote expressing support for the overall defense authorization bill. The statement listed 15 areas of “concern.” The fifth issue listed was DADT; the statement said it supports the language that calls for the certification process leading to repeal of DADT.
On MSNBC Tuesday, Alex Nicholson, head of Servicemembers United, criticized Reid for pushing the cloture vote without compromising on how many amendments could be heard.
“If Senator Reid would just budge a little bit and come to an agreement on a reasonable way to proceed, we could potentially get the votes. But so far, he’s not been willing to do that, unfortunately.”
As Majority Leader, Reid has the option to bring the cloture motion up again at any point.
Top photo: Former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) argued that in pushing repeal of the military gay ban now, ‘We are pursuing the social agenda of the Democratic party.’ (Publicity photo)
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