Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he’s received assurances from Democratic leadership that major defense legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would come again after Election Day if cloture isn’t invoked Tuesday.
“If for some reason, we don’t get the 60 votes to proceed, this ain’t over,” Lieberman said. “We’re going to come back into session in November or December. I spoke to Sen. Reid today. He’s very clear and strong that he’s going to bring this bill to the floor in November or December.”
Lieberman said he’s “not optimistic” about the upcoming cloture vote. Still, he urged other senators to come on board today and said the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill is a “critical piece of legislation.”
“The fact that our colleagues would be having on the Senate floor this debate about to vote to proceed to take up the National Defense Authorization Act, to me, is unbelievable,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman said moving forward with the defense legislation should be a “no-brainer” because of the funding provided in the bill for U.S. service members.
He also defended the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” language in the bill and said he doesn’t think opponents of repeal have the votes to strip it out if the legislation comes to the floor.
“I don’t believe that the opponents of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have enough votes to take that repeal out of this legislation,” he said. “Maybe that’s why they’re fighting so hard to stop this legislation from coming up.”
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.
During a news conference, Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) also said the Republicans would be at fault if cloture isn’t invoked on the defense authorization bill on Tuesday.
“What would be unprecedented is if Republicans block the Senate from passing the defense authorization bill for the first time since 1952,” Durbin said.
Asked by the Blade about what Democratic leadership is doing to negotiate with Republicans over the cloture vote, Durbin replied, “We’re trying.”
Durbin said the initial three amendments would come up on the defense authorization bill first, which would be followed by a “discussion as to what further amendments would be considered.”
“I don’t think Sen. Reid has ruled that out,” Durbin said. “What he has said is that the first three amendments are the first amendments. … Beyond that, Sen. Reid would be open for negotiation for a unanimous consent request.”
Pressed on whether he thinks any GOP senators would vote for cloture on Tuesday as a result of negotiations with Republicans, Durbin replied, “I don’t know at this point.”
Lieberman expressed confidence in Reid’s negotiations on the legislation. Asked by the Blade whether he thinks Reid is doing everything he can to bring Republicans on board for the cloture vote, the senator replied, “I do.”
The Connecticut senator said finishing work on the defense authorization bill would require another cloture vote and Republicans would have the opportunity to offer amendments before that motion to proceed.
“If, for some reason, Sen. Reid decides to bring the defense bill to a final vote before any other amendments are put in, our Republican colleagues — and I would guess, some Democrats — would not vote for cloture at that point,” Lieberman said. “So, they have the final say.”
During a news conference, Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign president, praised Reid for leading the way on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“I can think of no elected official who has the tenacity, and, quite frankly, the quiet determination of Sen. Reid,” Solmonese said. “His tremendous leadership is the reason that we are here today going to this historic vote. And it is his resolve and his persistence that will be the reason that I am confident that we ultimately succeed in repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'”
Chances for a successful vote for cloture seemed to fade when Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) issued a statement that he was reluctant to support a vote for cloture on the defense authorization bill.
“If the Democrats are serious about getting this bill passed, Leader Reid should sit down with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and work out the amendment process,” Voinovich said. “Unless that is done, I will not support cloture on the motion to proceed to this bill.”
Regarding “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, Voinovich said it would be “logical” to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on implementing repeal, which is due Dec. 1.
“At this point there is no reason to rush to judgment for political expediency until we hear from our military leaders as to whether they think it is a good idea to change this policy,” he said. “I will carefully study this determination when it is completed.”
Also present at the news conference to promote “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was Eric Alva, who’s gay and the first U.S. service member wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Mike Almy, a gay former Air Force communications officer discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was also at the conference and said he was representing the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
In a related development, the White House today issued a Statement of Administration Policy on the Senate version of the bill approving of provisions in the legislation and calling for its passage.
The statements are intended to provide guidance to members of Congress on how to vote and how to handle major pieces of legislation.
According to a copy of the statement obtained in advance by the Blade, the Obama administration “supports Senate passage of S. 3454, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011.”
“The Administration appreciates the Senate Armed Services Committee’s continued support of our national defense, including, among other things, its support for the Department’s topline budget requests for both the base budget requests for both the base budget and for overseas contingency operations,” the statement reads.
The statement makes special note of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the legislation under the heading, “Policy Concerning Homosexuality in the Armed Forces.”
“The Administration supports section 591 as it would allow for completion of the Comprehensive Review, enable the Department of Defense to assess the results of the review, and ensure that the implementation of the repeal is consistent with the standards of military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, recruiting and retention,” the statements reads.
The White House adds the repeal provision “recognizes the critical need to allow our military and their families the full opportunity to inform and shape the implementation process through a thorough understanding of their concerns, insights and suggestions.”
The statement also makes note that the Senate version of the defense authorization doesn’t have funding for the alternative engine program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation military aircraft.
The House version of the defense authorization bill provides for $485 million in funds for the second engine for the aircraft. The White House has issued a veto threat over the defense authorization bill as a result of this provision.