Efforts to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy took a heavy blow in the Senate Thursday after Majority Leader Harry Reid fled bipartisan talks and forced a procedural vote that failed on the floor.
A procedural vote to consider the defense authorization bill, which includes language to repeal the military's policy banning gays from openly serving, failed 57-40. It needed 60 votes for passage.
Reid had been in talks since last week with Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the most vocal Republican in favor of the DADT repeal, to determine a time agreement to bring up the defense bill. In an extended speech on the floor just before the vote, Reid hinted that Collins had overplayed her hand.
"It doesn't matter what I do," the Nevada Democrat said of the bipartisan talks. "Before I get to the end of it, they change the rules again."
A Democratic aide said that Collins's demand to have an unlimited debate on the bill, including allowing an unlimited amount of amendments, was too much. Reid and Collins had previously discussed an agreement that would allow time for 15 amendments on the floor, including 10 for Republicans. Collins was warm to that idea but wanted an extended debate on each of those amendments, but Democratic aides said that would amount to GOP stall tactics.
Collins rushed to the floor and was visibly frustrated at the turn of events. She sad she thought her negotiations with Reid were getting close, and that the two had entertained moving to the defense bill and then going to legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
"I think there was such a clear path for us to be able to get this done," said Collins, who voted in favor of the procedural motion. "I'm frustrated and perplexed that this bill is going to be a victim of politics.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined Republicans in voting against cloture. Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who indicated their support for repealing DADT if given sufficient time for debate and amendments, voted no. Sen. Jim Webb (Va.), previously considered a swing vote, joined fellow Democrats in voting to move to the defense bill.