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Lieberman Confident DADT Repeal Will Attract More GOP Votes

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Sen. Joe Lieberman said Friday he expects a decent Republican showing of support for legislation to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which is headed to a rare Saturday vote. 

The Connecticut Independent said at a press conference that GOP Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) would likely join Democrats in voting for a procedural motion to consider a stand-alone bill to overturn the military’s ban on openly gay service members. Lieberman said he has also reached out to GOP Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), who have previously indicated their support, to make sure he has the 60 votes needed to pass the legislation.  

“Those two have been leaders in this, so I think they’ll have an effect on the other Republicans as well,” Lieberman said of Collins and Murkowski. “I continue to be believe we’ll have more support on the Republican side than the four that we’ve talked about.” 

Democrats have failed twice since September to pass the repeal legislation, which previously was included in the defense authorization bill. Both Collins and Murkowski blasted Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for not limiting debate on the defense measure last week, prompting Democrats to separate the annual defense bill and DADT repeal in order to pass both priorities in the last days of the lame-duck session. The House passed the stand-alone DADT repeal bill on Wednesday, which the Senate will move to consider during Saturday’s session. 

Although Lieberman voiced optimism on Friday and declared “we’re on a very encouraging path,” a few outliers remain. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) was the lone Democrat to vote against last week’s procedural motion to the defense bill and has not indicated how he will vote on Saturday. Gay rights organizations have targeted Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) as another potential defector. A spokesman for Conrad would say only “we’ll see” when asked how his boss will vote on Saturday. Both Conrad and Manchin are up for re-election in 2012, as are Snowe and Brown.

While Snowe and Brown have made statements indicating their support, one or both Members could vote against the Democrats in protest of Reid’s move not to allow amendments on the floor. Lieberman sought to allay those concerns, which were also brought up last week during a partisan back-and-forth over the defense bill, by noting the stand-alone repeal legislation up for consideration is just “four or five pages” and will not require as much debate time. 

“I just don’t think it’s going to be credible for anyone to say, for technical or procedural reasons, [that] even though I support the principle, I’m not going to vote for it,” Lieberman said. “You’ve got to make sure to get your votes there and that nobody’s affected by anything extraneous. But right now we’re on a very encouraging path.”

One helpful development in Lieberman’s whip counting is that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who will undergo surgery next week to treat early-stage prostate cancer, will be present for the vote. 

The DADT bill is expected to come up Saturday after a procedural vote to consider the DREAM Act, an immigration bill that is not expected to clear the 60-vote threshold. 

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which is pushing for repeal, announced Friday that supporters will sit in the Senate gallery until Saturday’s vote. Organizing for America, the grass-roots arm of the Democratic National Committee, sent an e-mail to supporters Friday to boost momentum behind both liberal priorities, which Republicans have dismissed as election-year priorities that Reid is pushing in the final days of the legislative session. 

Indeed, Sen. Bob Corker said on the floor Friday that the last-minute push on the DREAM Act and DADT are poisoning the separate debate over ratifying the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which President Barack Obama is pushing the Senate to approve before adjourning for the year. 

“I’m hoping that saner minds will prevail and these issues that have been brought forth, that are absolutely partisan political issues brought forth to basically accommodate activist groups around this country ... will be taken down,” the Tennessee Republican said. 

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