September 17, 2010 at 1:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
New anxieties emerge over ‘Don’t Ask’ vote

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Blade photo by Michael Key)

New anxieties are emerging over whether sufficient votes exist to advance legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal as a dispute has emerged in the U.S. Senate over the amendments that will be allowed for the bill.

The issue comes down to a disagreement between Democratic and Republican leadership on the issue of the ability to offer amendments on the Senate floor to the defense budget legislation that contains the repeal language.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill when it comes to the floor, but Republicans reportedly want an agreement to offer additional amendments to the defense authorization bill.

The three amendments that Reid said he would allow are a measure on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal; a measure to attach the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the defense legislation; and another measure that would address the “secret holds” U.S. senators can place on presidential nominees.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president of communications and marketing, said this disagreement has made moving forward with the defense authorization bill “a partisan issue” for senators who would have otherwise voted in favor of cloture.

“Republicans would have liked to have seen additional amendments considered and so the party leaders on both the majority and minority side are holding their caucuses to these procedural issues on party lines,” Sainz said.

Concern about whether there are sufficient votes to move forward piqued on Thursday when the Advocate reported that Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) expressed doubts about finding enough votes for cloture.

“The question is whether the Senate leadership can negotiate an agreement with the Republicans that will allow the bill to come up and get them to feel that they can introduce amendments that they want to introduce as well,” Lieberman was quoted as saying. “But until that happens, I don’t think the votes are there to break the filibuster, which would be a shame.”

Consternation among Republicans seeking to offer additional amendments and now possibly withholding support for cloture is inspiring new worry from “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal supporters.

Sainz acknowledged the confidence that repeal supporters felt earlier in the week has given way to anxiety.

“Given what we now know on the way in which the cloture petition is kind of sizing up, it’s going to be a very close vote,” he said. “It’s going to be definitely a party line and we’re looking to bring a few Republicans to our side.”

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said he’s “still optimistic” that at least 60 senators will vote in favor of cloture on the defense authorization bill and acknowledged the vote would be close.

“I think we all generally feel like we’re still moving in the right direction,” Nicholson said. “Nothing has changed in terms of the estimation that it’s going to be a close vote, and we can’t take even one vote for granted on this.”

Nicholson said if the cloture vote were to take place now, the Senate would move to proceed on the defense authorization bill by a margin of one or two votes or possibly “an even 60.”

On Friday, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued the names of seven senators whom the organization says are uncommitted on the cloture vote and urged repeal supporters to contact them to urge them to move forward.

“For repeal to happen advocates need more senators on board to break John McCain’s filibuster,” the statements reads. “All supporters must call their senators now.”

The seven senators are Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.); Richard Lugar (R-Ind.); Judd Gregg (R-N.H.); Jim Webb (D-Va.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio).

Only Webb’s office responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the defense authorization bill.

Will Jenkins, a Webb spokesperson, said he doesn’t have a statement from the senator at this time.

Still, he noted that while Webb voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision in May during a committee markup, he voted to report out of committee the legislation as a whole.

“He has not indicated how he intends to vote on this in the future — as is his normal practice with pending legislation,” Jenkins said.

The fact that SLDN has cited Lugar as uncommitted for a vote on cloture is noteworthy because the senator told the Blade in July that he would “presume” that he would vote against any filibuster of the legislation.

The failure to invoke cloture on the defense authorization bill on Tuesday raises questions about its passage this Congress and the fate of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Sainz predicted that not having 60 votes to move forward on Tuesday would mean the bill would have to come up again in the lame duck session after Election Day — and perhaps with “a different set of circumstances.”

“It would be tight, but there would be the ability to go ahead and introduce [the defense authorization bill] and conference it,” Sainz said. “But that’s definitely a Plan B. We’re really kind of focused on cloture on Tuesday.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • DADT repeal is already in the Defense Authorization bill, which must pass and passes every year. What the Republicans are wanting to do is amendment the Defense Authorization bill to *strip* DADT repeal from the Defense Authorization bill. Please be more clear when writing these things.

  • I want the White House to tell us which of these seven Senators the President has personally called to lobby for a vote.

  • This is not politics for me, I was kicked out under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If this fails America will be clearly saying that they support open bigotry against gays and lesbians.

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