September 18, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Doubts persist as today’s ‘Don’t Ask’ cloture vote approaches

Supporters of open service in the U.S. military are expressing uncertainty — and even doubt — over today’s vote to move forward in the U.S. Senate with major defense legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, is among those saying he doesn’t think there are sufficient votes to move forward with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and the repeal language in the legislation.

Asked whether he sees success for the cloture vote, set for today at 2:15, Nicholson replied, “As it stands right now, no.”

“I haven’t seen anybody budge,” Nicholson said. “The Republican caucus is standing united and it’s still just a standoff.”

Blame is already being assigned to the White House.

Trevor Thomas, spokesperson for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said his organization hasn’t seen an effort from the White House on the issue in recent days.

“We have not seen any signs that the White House has been whipping this vote in the last 48 hours,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he can’t predict what will happen with the cloture vote and maintained SLDN is “taking nothing for granted.”

Still, he said the vote will be “very tight” and repeal supporters need to call their senators to seek their support.

Provided all 59 Democrats vote in favor of moving forward with the defense legislation, at least one Republican vote is necessary to reach the 60-vote threshold to end the filibuster on the legislation.

However, GOP leaders are reportedly telling its caucus to vote against cloture because of limitations on amendments that Democratic leadership will allow on the floor.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said three amendments would be allowed on the defense authorization bill: a measure stripping the legislation of its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language; a measure attaching the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, to the legislation; and a measure addressing the “secret holds” senators can place on presidential nominees.

“Sen. Reid, if he has not, absolutely needs to be on the phone with Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, other members that we’ve discussed — and also be sitting down with them,” Thomas said.

On Monday, two key Republican senators issued statements indicating a lack of support for moving forward with the defense authorization bill, without outright saying they would vote against cloture.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said the Senate should “have the ability to debate more than the three amendments the majority leader is allowing” and noted that the defense authorization bill “is the largest discretionary authorization measure that Congress considers.”

“It is therefore imperative that Senate deliberations on the defense bill be conducted without limitations and in a manner that allows for the consideration of all related amendments that senators may wish to offer,” she said.

An original co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act who’s known for supporting LGBT rights, Snowe also expressed concern about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the legislation and said a Pentagon report due Dec. 1 would help guide the decision to repeal the 1993 statute.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a separate statement on Monday that the Democratic leadership’s decision to limit amendments on the defense authorization bill is “disappointing.”

“It is disappointing, however, that instead of allowing a full and open debate on the defense authorization bill, the majority leader intends to shut Republicans out of the debate,” she said.  “Republicans and Democrats should have an equal opportunity to offer relevant amendments to this critical legislation.”

Collins called on Democratic leadership to “work with Republican leaders to negotiate an agreement so that the Senate can debate the defense bill this week.”

Other senators who are seen as potentially breaking with the Republican filibuster on the defense authorization bill are Sens. George Voinovoich (R-Ohio), Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). Their offices haven’t responded to the Blade’s request for comment on the legislation.

Earlier on Tuesday, SLDN added Sens. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) as Republicans who might break with their party to vote for cloture on the defense authorization bill.

The standoff over the number of amendments that will be allowed on the defense authorization bill has become a partisan issue even among LGBT groups.

On Monday, R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, issued a statement criticizing Reid over the rules he’s set for the defense authorization bill.

“There is an overwhelming majority of senators, Democrats and Republicans, who are committed to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ but Senator Reid’s partisan tactics could prevent the Senate from moving forward with this critical legislation for our nation’s military,” Cooper said.

Cooper added that the potentially “historic achievement” of the legislation shouldn’t “be scuttled because the Democratic majority has decided to exclude Republicans from the legislative process.”

But Michael Mitchell, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, responded in a statement on Monday by saying Republicans are the ones obstructing the process.

“I hope that the Log Cabin Republicans will stop trying to blame those who are working through the legislative process to finally repeal ['Don't Ask, Don't Tell'] once and for all and instead work to change the votes of their party’s senators and have it pass with the bipartisan support they claim they have,” Mitchell said.

Noting that Reid has said on the Senate floor he’s willing to work with Republicans on the legislation, Mitchell said a failure to invoke cloture wouldn’t be “the Democrats’ fault and it certainly won’t be the fault of Sen. Harry Reid.”

(Troops photo courtesy of the Department of Defense)

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

2 Comments
  • BS, Reid is expected to loose this november, How can he bring it Back. Read Just lied to the whole community when he packaged the repeal with an imigration bill. We were duped, our armed forces were duped.

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