Reid’s motion to proceed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill was met with objection by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), prompting Reid to move to end debate by filing cloture.
This manuever means a vote to start official consideration of the defense bill and amendments will take place Tuesday at 2:15 pm. Moving forward will require 60 votes from members for the U.S. Senate.
On the Senate floor, Reid said after a successful vote for cloture on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have an opportunity to strip the bill of this language as well as address other matters senators may find controversial.
“I understand there are issues that I’ve talked about the last couple of days and many other important matters that colleagues on both sides of the aisle wish to address,” Reid said.
Reid also said he expects the time before lawmakers break again for recess after the first week of October will be spent on debating and voting on amendments on the defense authorization bill.
The majority leader predicted a final vote on the legislation as a whole won’t take place until the lame duck session in November.
“I’m willing to work with Senate Republicans … to complete this bill as soon as possible, which likely will be after the recess,” Reid said.
McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Commitee, objected to consideration of the defense authorization bill because he said the Democratic leadership is planning amendments unrelated to the U.S. military.
The Arizona senator said Reid’s plans to attach to the legislation the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, and a measure addressing the “secret holds” U.S. senators can place on presidential nominations aren’t appropriate for defense legislation.
McCain also lamented how a hate crimes protections measure was attached last year to Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Act.
“Under this majority leader, we have witnessed the unfortunate and growing politicization of the national defense authorization act,” McCain said. “Time to offer and debate important, defense-related amendments to this bill on the floor is being limited or cut off, so that the majority leader can push through highly political legislation that has little or nothing to do with national defense — legislation that would never be referred to the [Senate] Armed Services Committee if it were introduced independently.”
McCain also expressed discontent with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the bill, but had a notable change in rhetoric from what he’s said previously on the provision.
The senator acknowledged the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision has relevance to the U.S. armed forces. McCain also said he has no position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time, but wants to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on the issue on Dec. 1.
“I want to make one thing very clear: I do not oppose or support the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ at this time, but I do oppose taking legislative action prior to the completion of a real and thorough review of the law,” McCain said. “A complete survey to evaluate the impact of repeal on the men and women serving in our military should be concluded before moving forward.”
Many speculated McCain previously had stronger objection to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal earlier this year because he was facing a challenge from conservative J.D. Hayworth in a Republican primary.
But the primary has since taken place and McCain has emerged as the victor. The Arizona senator now faces a general election against a Democrat.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) responded to McCain’s objection to proceeding by noting the Senate has taken up amendments on a variety of issues to defense authorization legislation in previous years.
“The Senate as a body has right to offer amendments which are not germane or relevant,” Levin said.
Levin said the Senate has previously considered amendments to defense authorization bills on indecency standards, minimum wage, welfare reform and the death penalty for drug-related killings.
“I didn’t hear anybody make the charge at that the time that somehow or another the Senate rules were being utilized to bring to the floor of the Senate an amendment which wasn’t directly related to the bill in front of us,” Levin said.
Activists target McCain
Earlier on Thursday, activists affiliated with GetEQUAL interrupted a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to persuade McCain to drop his objection to moving forward with the legislation., according to a statement from the organization.
Working in conjunction with HERO, an Arizona-based grassroots group, activists interrupted the hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building while holding up images of those who obstructed civil rights in the past, such as former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.
Additionally, they held up signs saying, “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ do you want to be the next George Wallace?” and “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ it’s not too late to change your legacy.”
Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, said in a statement the protest was necessary because McCain is “more interested in placating the McCain-Palin wing of the Republican Party.”
“When 80 percent of the American people, the Joints Chiefs of Staff, military leaders, and active-duty servicemembers all agree that it is past time we stop the firing of critical military personnel, you can be assured that you’re standing on the wrong side of history,” she said.