‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Repeal Stalls as GOP Unites to Block Defense Bill

Posted September 21, 2010 at 2:11pm

Updated: 6 p.m.

Senate Republicans, with the help of two Democrats, blocked consideration Tuesday of a defense measure that also would have repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay service members.

A procedural motion to move to the defense authorization bill failed, 56-43, with all Republicans and Arkansas Democratic Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln voting “no.” The procedural motion needed 60 votes to pass.

While Democrats quickly blasted Republicans for thwarting the measure, which authorizes salaries and health benefits for the military, the major defeat was on the DADT repeal. Gay rights organizations and Democratic Senators tried to win moderate Republican support for Tuesday’s procedural vote, but the attempts were futile, as the minority party blasted Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for rushing debate and stifling the minority’s rights on the floor.

“I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down the debate and preclude the involvement of Republicans,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on the floor Tuesday morning.

Collins was the lone Republican to vote in favor of the DADT amendment during an Armed Services Committee markup in May, and she and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) were considered crucial votes to advance the bill. But Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) helped keep their caucus in line by arguing that the bill contained irrelevant and highly political amendments on DADT, immigration and Senate procedure.

Asked whether he thought the Senate would pass a defense measure this year, McCain said at a news conference after the vote that “it depends on the majority.”

“If they want to accommodate and work with us on this issue, we’ll be glad to,” he said. “But they haven’t on any other issue in the last 20 months.”

At a separate news conference, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said Democrats will try again to bring the defense measure to the floor after the midterm elections. He also said the package will still include both the DADT language and the immigration-related DREAM Act, which most Republicans oppose.

President Barack Obama vowed in last year’s State of the Union address to overturn DADT this year, declaring it “the right thing to do.” The House approved its version of the defense authorization in May with language repealing DADT, and since then attention has shifted to the Senate. A handful of moderate Republican Senators — including Collins, Snowe, Scott Brown (Mass.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) — were considered crucial swing votes, but none voted in favor Tuesday.

Gay rights organizations vowed to press on, suggesting that the lame-duck session could provide time for a floor debate that could turn Collins and potentially others into “yes” votes.

“Today’s loss was because of a lack of time on the amendments process,” Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz said in an e-mail. “Senator Reid had no way to get the bill off the floor if he didn’t limit the number of amendments. We are very hopeful that both parties can find a way to introduce amendments and get the repeal passed when there is more time.”