Supporters of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal endured a devastating loss on Thursday when the Senate failed to reach the 60-vote threshold necessary to proceed with legislation that would end the military’s gay ban.
Still, repeal advocates are pursuing an end to the military’s gay ban through new standalone legislation and other administrative means.
By a 57-40 vote, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains a measure to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Alex Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, called the vote a “major failure” of the Senate to “simply do its job and pass an annual defense authorization bill.”
“Politics prevailed over responsibility today, and now more than one million American service members, including tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops, are worse off as a result,” Nicholson said.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), a leading advocate for repeal in the Senate, said during a later news conference that he’s “very disappointed” in the result of the vote as well as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to hold the vote on Thursday.
Lieberman noted that all 42 members of the Republican caucus said they wouldn’t vote in favor of moving forward with other legislation until tax issues and continuing funding for the U.S. government are addressed.
“You can say that was wrong, but the reality is that that was the request, and, nonetheless, Sen. Reid went ahead and called this vote,” he said.
With exception of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who voted in favor of cloture, all Republican senators who were present cast a “no” vote on the motion to proceed. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) didn’t vote.
Following the vote at a news conference, Collins blamed the failure of the bill on Reid and said she’s “extremely disappointed” about his decision to hold the vote on the defense authorization bill at this time.
“There is no reason why we could not have proceeded to consider that bill after completing action on the tax relief bill and using a process that would be fair to both sides,” Collins said.
Collins had been engaged in negotiations with Reid and Lieberman about finding a path forward to bring on needed Republican support for the defense authorization bill. The Maine senator accused Reid of having “walked away” from the negotiations by bringing the legislation to a vote.
“The majority leader decided to prematurely hold a cloture vote that he knew would not succeed,” Collins said. “I just don’t understand that decision. I don’t understand that given the importance of this bill and the policies in it.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who recently came out in favor of repeal, later told reporters she voted “no” because she felt the amendment process set up for the defense authorization bill was unfair.
She also recalled the letter that all 42 members of the Republican caucus signed saying that wanted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts and pass a continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government before taking on other issues.
“We’re going to that tax bill right now,” she said. “Why the majority leader could not have allowed for a timing that would help to facilitate greater support for this, allow for a reasonable amendment process — that is not too much to ask.”
Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said the majority leader was offering 10 Republican amendments and 5 Democratic amendments as part of consideration of the legislation.
“We’ve bent over backwards to try and offer them a reasonable number of amendments,” Manley said. “Just because they say it, doesn’t mean it’s true.”
On the Democratic side, the sole vote against the motion to proceed was the newly seated Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). He had earlier expressed concerns about chaplains leaving the military should “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” be repealed.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) didn’t vote on the motion to proceed. Lieberman later told reporters Lincoln wanted to vote in the affirmative, but was detained and unable to make the vote on time.
In the wake of the loss, Lieberman and Collins announced their intent on Thursday to introduce new standalone legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” with language that’s identical to the repeal provision in the defense authorization bill.
Unveiling his plans for the new legislation, Lieberman said he thinks the bill has a chance for success in lame duck because at least 60 senators have expressed support for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.
“We’re going to keep fighting until the last possible moment in this session because we got the votes to change this unjust policy and we owe it ourselves and to our country to continue to fight until fighting is no longer possible,” Lieberman said.
The Connecticut senator said he received assurances from Reid that he would use “Rule 14” to bypass the committee vote and bring the standalone legislation to the floor during the lame duck session of Congress. Further, Lieberman said Reid wanted to be a co-sponsor of the legislation.
As repeal advocates push forward with this new bill, the Human Rights Campaign has renewed its call for President Obama to prevent further discharges under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by issuing a stop-loss order — a power afforded to him during times of war.
Joe Solmonese, HRC’s president, had earlier endorsed the idea of Obama issuing such an order in an October letter to the president.
“The Senate’s apparent refusal to act on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal makes presidential action imperative in order for him to fulfill his state of the union promise,” Solmonese said. “The only measure of success is an end to the discharges and anything less is unacceptable.”