Sen. Joe Lieberman says he has enough votes in the Senate to overturn the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring openly gay service members, but fence-sitters and Members of Congress eager to get home for the holidays may prevent any action before the end of the year.
“Last year I never got to wear a Christmas tie; I’m wearing a Christmas tie today so that may answer the question,” Sen. Ben Nelson quipped Tuesday. “I’m ready to go home for Christmas. I think we can get things done that need to be done.”
The Nebraska Democrat’s position is shared by a handful of Members who contend the Senate should vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts by Dec. 17 and adjourn for the year. Lieberman, who has also been negotiating with a handful of moderate Republicans to support a DADT repeal, pleaded with his Democratic colleagues during Tuesday’s weekly caucus luncheon to agree to stay in session beyond that mid-December date to consider the defense authorization bill.
But Senate aides said the reaction was decidedly mixed. The dozen or so Senators who have most vocally called for a repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy are willing to stay in town, but others contend the Senate should stay focused on economic policy and then get home for the holidays.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) has called on the Senate to stay until January to approve the defense bill.
For his part, Lieberman is reminding colleagues that the bill includes pay raises and benefits for soldiers, in addition to the repeal of the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law enacted under President Bill Clinton, and is worth a few extra days of work to pass before the end of the year.
“Most Americans work right up until the day before Christmas; our troops work right through Christmas,” Lieberman said. “The least we can do for them is to get their pay increased and their families in better housing, which is part of this bill.”
A Democratic aide said liberals could make a last-ditch effort on Dec. 17 by opposing the resolution to adjourn, though it is not clear whether anyone plans to do so. “If the adjournment resolution is put on the floor Dec. 17 with so many issues still unresolved, some Members will be hesitant to adjourn,” the aide said.
Until then, Lieberman is working back channels to get floor time and 60 votes to pass the defense authorization bill, although the one-time presidential candidate still has some whipping to do.
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who voted against the August procedural motion to consider the defense bill, has not indicated whether his position has switched. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has stayed mum on his position as well.
Sen. Jim Webb, who voted against repealing DADT but in favor of the larger defense bill during the Armed Services Committee markup in May, has not announced how he might vote on a motion to move on the bill, but during a hearing last week on the Pentagon’s review of the DADT policy, the Virginia Democrat appeared closer to favoring a repeal.
A handful of moderate Republicans who want the Senate to first pass an extension of Bush-era tax cuts present another issue. Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the most vocal Republican to favor repeal, has said she will join Democrats to consider the defense authorization and repeal of DADT only if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) grants ample floor time to debate the measure and a handful of amendments.
Collins made a similar case in August when she voted with Republicans to block the bill, citing Reid’s limit on debate. Sen. Scott Brown handed advocates the biggest boost when he announced last week that he would vote in favor of repeal. The Massachusetts Republican, who voted to kill the bill in August, cited the Pentagon’s review that found a majority of soldiers supportive of a repeal as a key element in his decision.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, another swing vote, left the door open for action this year. Citing the bipartisan deal between the White House and Congress to temporarily extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which could be considered on the Senate floor next week, the Maine Republican suggested there could be a small window of time to move to the defense bill.
“As soon as we get beyond the tax issues, I think that what’s important now is first and foremost to get done, and then we can look at the rest of the agenda, including the defense bill,” Snowe said.
President Barack Obama has struck a tax deal with GOP leaders, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) maintain there is not enough time on the calendar to consider the defense authorization bill, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty or any other Democratic priorities.
Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle also would not confirm whether the Senate would stay in session past Dec. 17 to consider the defense bill.
“We have many important items that we hope to consider before the end of the year, including the defense authorization,” she said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.