Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday objected to a motion to bring “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal up for consideration on the Senate floor — indicating support for a filibuster of the measure.
McCain spoke out against the inclusion of repeal in the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill in an exchange with Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on the Senate floor.
Levin asked for unanimous consent to bring to the floor in September the defense bill to which the Senate Armed Services Committee already attached repeal, but McCain objected and said he wouldn’t allow the Senate to proceed.
“I’m not going to allow us to move forward,” McCain said. “I will be discussing with my leaders and the 41 members of this side of the aisle as to whether we’re going to be moving forward with a bill that contains that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy repealed before, before a meaningful survey of the impact on battle effectiveness and morale of the men and women who are serving this nation in uniform.”
McCain called the inclusion of repeal in the defense legislation without the completion of this study a “disgrace.”
Levin, a proponent of repeal, responded by saying allowing the bill to come to the floor would allow the Senate to consider amendments to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language.
“The main point is that the place to debate these policies is on the floor of the Senate,” Levin said. “The Senate will determine, if we can get this bill to the floor, whether or not we make that conditional change in the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ or whether we do a number of other things.”
Levin further noted the language in the bill makes repeal conditional on completion of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” study currently underway at the Pentagon, which is due Dec. 1, as well as certification from the president and military leaders.
In a statement, Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, accused McCain of flip-flopping on his position, noting an article in Congressional Quarterly earlier on Thursday quoting McCain as saying he wouldn’t support a filibuster.
“In less than 24 hours, Sen. McCain seems to have changed his mind on blocking a critical defense bill in order to score some political points with his base,” Solmonese said. “Our country needs the best and brightest men and women in uniform and no one should play politics when it’s time to get down to doing the people’s business.”
Continuing to rail against the inclusion of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language, McCain recalled his discontent over the inclusion of hate crimes protections language in the previous year’s budget legislation.
“I’ve only been a member of this committee, Mr. President, since 1987,” McCain said. “I never seen what the chairman of the committee did last year by bringing a totally irrelevant and very controversial issue and put it on the defense authorization bill.”
The attachment of hate crimes legislation to the defense authorization bill happened at least twice before last year in the Senate in 2004 and 2007. Supporters of the hate crimes measure at the time said this method helped to protect the legislation against dangerous amendments.
Solmonese also addressed McCain’s remarks in opposition to inclusion of hate crimes protections in the defense bill.
“He tried his hardest to prevent Americans from being protected from hate crimes and lost,” Solmonese said. “His attempt to prevent qualified openly lesbian and gay service members from serving will be a failing effort as well.”
Following his floor speech, McCain elaborated to the Blade on his opposition to repeal language in the defense authorization bill.
“I just think that a survey needs to be conducted as to the effect on morale and battle effectiveness before the repeal is voted on, and everybody’s entitled to their own views, but to repeal it before before we get that assessment, I think, is really a serious mistake,” he said.
Asked whether he would introduce a motion to strike or a substitute amendment with regard to that langauge, McCain replied, “We don’t yet know exactly what we’re going to do.”