As opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are pushing for the Senate to take up repeal legislation this month, one key senator says he won’t support an attempt to remove the language from a larger defense bill.
U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) told the Blade last week that he isn’t concerned about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and wouldn’t support an effort to rid the legislation of the provision.
Asked whether he would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike, Lugar replied, “No. I would just leave it as it is.”
Lugar said he would “presume” that he would vote against any filibuster of the defense bill as a whole, but expressed concern about the legislation being used as a vehicle for other costly programs unrelated to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
“The defense bill, as it stands, seems to me to be a good piece of legislation, but I think the issue was the additions that were not paid for in various other ways,” Lugar said.
Often regarded on Capitol Hill as a centrist Republican, Lugar voted in favor of hate crimes protections legislation after twice backing the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said Lugar’s comments on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are “good news.”
“That is consistent with what we have been hearing from his staff,” Sarvis said. “My view is that Sen. Lugar’s response is very encouraging.”
Lugar’s support for allowing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language to stay in the defense bill could be a sign the provision would survive the legislative process once it reaches the Senate floor.
On May 27, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to attach language leading to repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to the defense bill. But while the repeal language has been attached to the defense bill, a number of obstacles remain that could prevent the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from passing in the Senate.
One such obstacle is a filibuster of the defense bill as whole. Additionally, a substitute amendment or a motion to strike could strip the legislation of repeal language.
Mounting a filibuster of the defense bill would take 41 votes in the Senate. Such an effort would be politically challenging because pay for troops and defense programs are included in the larger bill.
A substitute amendment or motion to strike with regard to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language would require 51 votes.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a proponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, cited a filibuster and a motion to strike as potential dangers for the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in a brief interview.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a motion to strike,” he said. “There’s even a threat of a filibuster against the bill.”
Levin said a filibuster of the defense bill is possible based on a number of factors, including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as well as a provision for funding for legal abortions on military bases.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the lead opponent of repeal in the Senate, has threatened to spearhead a filibuster and “do everything” he can to stop repeal language from reaching the president’s desk.
His office didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether he’s still pursuing a filibuster or planning a legislative maneuver to strip the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from the bill.
Another issue for the defense bill is when the legislation would come up for Senate consideration. Levin said he didn’t know when the bill would reach the floor.
Still, Levin said he wants the Senate to take up the legislation this month. Asked about his predictions for when the defense bill would reach the Senate floor, Levin replied, “Hopefully, we’ll do it in July.”
Sarvis also said the most “immediate challenge” advocates face with the defense authorization bill is finding time for floor discussion. Like Levin, Sarvis noted that he’s hopeful the bill will come up for discussion this month.
“But the floor calendar is very crowded, so I’m not sure we’re going to get on in July,” Sarvis said.
Sarvis said he’s been told the defense bill will need several days for consideration on the floor and the scheduling wouldn’t be “a matter of getting this bill on and off the floor in a day or two.”
A knowledgeable Hill source said Senate consideration of the defense authorization bill could take two weeks before a final vote is cast.
Other senators on Capitol Hill recognized as politically moderate lawmakers have expressed varying degrees of support regarding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language.
One is Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), the lone Democrat to vote in committee against attaching repeal to the defense bill. He said he didn’t yet know whether he would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike regarding the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language.
“I don’t know,” Webb said. “We’ll see what it says.”
Webb noted that his May vote in committee against ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was “to delay repeal until we received this report” from the Pentagon, which is due Dec. 1.
“I’ve been very involved in it,” he said. “In terms of putting together the study, I think it’s going to be a great piece of work that’s going out to between three and four hundred thousand people in the military.”
Webb emphasized the importance of the having the study completed before taking action as “a measure of respect” for those in the U.S. military who would implement the repeal process.
Sarvis said he’s heard reports that Webb wouldn’t support a filibuster of the defense authorization bill based on the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language.
Although Webb voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in committee, the senator also voted to report out the legislation as a whole to the Senate floor.
“He’s a member of the committee,” Sarvis said. “Historically, he’s been an advocate for the Defense Department. It would be extraordinary if he objected to Sen. Levin proceeding to a debate on the defense authorization bill.”
Still, Sarvis said his understanding is that Webb would vote to strike the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language from the defense bill based on his earlier vote against the amendment in committee.
Many repeal advocates also are watching Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the junior senator from the state, to see if he’ll follow suit with Webb on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when the defense bill reaches the Senate floor.
Kevin Hall, a Warner spokesperson, said via e-mail the senator is watching the process for how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will be repealed.
“Sen. Warner supports repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in an orderly way, working with members of the uniformed services and our military leadership,” Hall said.
Hall said Warner wouldn’t support a filibuster of the defense authorization bill. Regarding whether the senator would support a substitute amendment or a motion to strike the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, Hall said he’d “let our previous statement speak for itself.”
Another moderate senator who’s reportedly opposed to filibuster is Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.). He voted against attaching repeal to the larger defense bill, but voted in favor of reporting the legislation as a whole to the floor.
“Filibuster’s never — it’s not my style. I want to make sure that we have a full and fair debate on it,” Brown was quoted as saying in May in a Boston Globe article.
Other senators that activists have discussed as being in question on whether they would support repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” are Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). Their offices didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for comment.