September 14, 2010 at 7:41 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Tension mounts as Senate prepares ‘Don’t Ask’ debate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has announced plans to proceed with major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language as questions linger about whether sufficient votes are present to move forward.

Reid officially announced plans to proceed with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Tuesday during his press conference in the U.S. Capitol.

The majority leader said the defense authorization bill is “especially important” this year because the legislation will be a vehicle to address issues that he called “long overdue,” including “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“I think we should choose common sense over discrimination,” Reid said. “We’re going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in our country, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcome.”

Still, Reid acknowledged opposition in moving forward with the legislation and said he thinks he would have to file cloture to proceed with the bill.

“I would hope we can move to it without having to file cloture on a motion to proceed, but the way things have been going, having had to file cloture on filibuster to more than 100 different pieces of legislation, I probably will have to file cloture on that,” Reid said.

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, told the Blade the senator intends to file cloture on the defense authorization bill this week for a vote on Tuesday.

Reid would file cloture after a senator objects to moving forward with the defense authorization bill with unanimous consent. After 30 hours of discussion, votes will be cast to determine whether 60 senators approve of ending the filibuster and officially moving to debate and amendments.

Asked at the conference whether he has 60 votes to proceed with the legislation, Reid replied, “We’ll sure find out.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said he’s “reasonably confident” that “60 firm votes” are in the Senate to end a filibuster.

“I think we’ll actually probably end up with a couple more if needed,” Sarvis said. “I don’t think there are 40 senators who want to go on record as [being] opposed to calling up the defense authorization bill.”

Still, key Republicans in the Senate have expressed concern about the defense authorization bill and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language as well as other provisions in the legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the repeal language a “controversial item” in response to an Blade inquiry on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his press conference.

“The provision in the bill involves eliminating ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ without the study, and that has also made it pretty controversial,” McConnell said.

The language in the defense authorization bill provides for repeal only after the Pentagon working group developing a plan for implemention an end to law finishes its work on Dec. 1.

An objction to proceeding would most likely come from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been the most vocal opponent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in the Senate. He has previoiusly objected to unanimous consent on bringing the defense authorization bill to the Senate floor.

Brooke Buchanan, a McCain spokesperson, said in a statement the senator “strongly believes” that Pentagon review should be complete before taking legislative action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“As all four service chiefs have stated, we should not short circuit the ongoing Pentagon review and thereby deny our men and women in uniform a chance to have their voices heard on an important issue that affects them and their service,” she said.

Buchanan was referring to a letter from the four service chiefs made public this spring expressing their discontent with moving forward with “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal before the Pentagon review is complete.

But Sarvis called the notion that Congress must wait for the Pentagon working group to finish its work a “tired talking point from the ‘no’ crowd.”

“Ironically, Congress, in all likelihood, will have that report before the vote is taken on the conference report in the lame duck session,” Sarvis said.

Reid said opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal can have a vote when the legislation comes to the Senate floor on whether to strip out the language from the bill.

“They want a vote on it; they can have a vote on it,” Reid said.

Sarvis said repeal proponents have been anticipating this amendment to come to the Senate floor and are prepared to beat back such a measure.

“I think if Sen. McCain or another senator moves to strike the repeal provisions, we will prevail by a comfortable margin,” Sarvis said.

But finishing the bill before the lawmakers before lawmaker break before Election Day is seen as a major concern by repeal proponents.

Sarvis identified “time” as his biggest concern heading into Senate debate on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while emphasizing the importance of a Senate vote on the defense authorization bill in September before lawmakers adjourn for the break.

“As long as there are strong opponents in the Senate, they will try to tie this up and ensure that we don’t finish in September or early October,” Sarvis said. “We can’t allow that to happen.”

Sarvis said the lame duck session after Election Day is limited and bills that haven’t already made it through both chambers of Congress are less likely to meet approval.

DREAM Act comes into play

Also during the conference, Reid said he wants to amend the defense authorization bill so that it would include the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill.

The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants pursuing a college education or position in the U.S. armed forces.

“Kids who grew up as Americans should be able to get their green card if they go to college or serve in the military,” Reid said.

The majority leader noted a number of U.S. service members are Hispanic and said “it’s really important that we move forward on this legislation that we tried to work on.”

Reid said moving forward on the DREAM Act as part of the defense authorization bill is partially in response what he called his inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this Congress.

“I know we can’t do comprehensive immigration reform,” Reid said. “I’ve tried so very, very hard. I’ve tried different iterations of this, but those Republicans we had in the last Congress have left us.”

McConnell cited the inclusion of the DREAM Act as a potentially “extraneous” amendment to the defense authorization bill.

The minority leader also was critical of Reid said he wants to address the issue of “secret holds” on presidential nominees as part of the defense authorization bill.

“It’s made it needlessly controversial,” McConnell said. “I can’t tell you right now how easy it will be to go forward with that bill, but it’s certainly created an element of controversy that would not have been otherwise there.”

Steve Ralls, a spokesperson for Immigration Equality, an LGBT immigration group, said his organzation was not part of discussion of including the DREAM Act as part of the defense authorization bill, but supports its passage.

“I can’t predict what the impact is going to be, but we certainly support the DREAM Act and I would say that we believe that the Senate majority leader is the right person to make the decision on how best to move forward,” Ralls said.

Sarvis said he doesn’t know whether this measure would complicate efforts for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“I don’t think it has to,” Sarvis said. “I think they are two separate issues and, at the end of the day, I think each one of these amendments are going to have to stand or fall on their own.”

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

  • Social engineering has no place in America’s Military,

    Why is repealing “Don’t ask Don’t tell” so important to the President and the Democrats in a time when America is in a deep recession, crises in the Gulf and fighting two wars? Why won’t they wait to vote until after the Military completes it’s survey? It makes absolutely no sense at all! To understand what it’s about, it is important to identify the source. The Military did not initiate this effort to allow homosexuals to openly serve. It has come from the radical gay agenda, the President and Democratic leaders who have put special interests above America’s best interests. Our Military is the best and most successful in the world because it has high standards and high moral codes. These codes have produced and preserved America’s freedom and security for over two hundred years. Now is not the time to bow to the self-centered demands of those who despise the virtues that have made and keep the U. S. Military the strongest and most respected in the world.
    If this moral code is repealed, it will cause dramatic changes that will have serious consequences on our young Sons and Daughters who may want to serve their country. Parents do you want your Son or Daughter being forced to sleep next to and shower with other men or women who are attracted to them sexually? Is this something that will improve or harm morale? Parents do you want your Son or Daughter being ushered into gay sensitivity indoctrination classes with orders to forget what their parents, their church and their Bible declares as highly immoral and dishonorable behavior. Make no mistake, it will happen! If the military does not expect men and women to share intimate private quarters, then why should straight soldiers be expected to do the same with homosexuals? Will Christian Chaplains be forced to endorse gay unions and perform so called gay marriages? Surely, gay officers and gay soldiers clubs will emerge across America’s Military Bases. Gay and lesbian soldiers will be free to publicly display affection one for another, transgender soldiers will occupy the rank and file as well. This will cause our Military’s readiness, morale and recruitment/re-enlistment levels to decline. I know I would strongly appose any of my children from enlisting if this change is enacted.
    I believe it was a shame and a reproach on this nation for our President to declare that he wants perversion to be embraced and endorsed by our Military. We are supposed to be “One Nation Under God” not one nation opposed to God! God will not be mocked. His Word is very clear and concise on the issue of perversion. (Romans 1:24-32) If this repeal is allowed to go through it will be like opening Pandora’s box, energizing the gay agenda like never before. How much longer afterward until our schools and churches are besieged under the same kind of government forced social engineering?
    This repeal is an “OUTRAGE” that has nothing to do with strengthening our Military. It has everything to do with promoting the gay agenda and attacking the traditional Judeo – Christian ethic that this nation was founded upon. It is very sad that our President and National Leaders are willing to jeopardize the security of our Military, and of America just to patronize a small special interest voting block.

    Mike Queen,

  • It’s past time to stop the government sanctioned discrimination in the military. Mike Queen would have you believe it’s a social experiment. If equality is an experiment then I’m a republican. He equates being gay with perversion. Clearly he is an outsider on this issue and should just keep his opinions to himself since he’s so biased against gays. Apparently he dislikes what he doesn’t approve of. Well that’s just tough buddy. So goes life. If you’ve ever faced discrimination your opinion might carry more weight but it simply carries no credibility. You’re just a bigot that quotes the bible because it’s a book you’ve interpreted to read as homophobic. It isn’t a source to cite when you need homophobic resources. Sorry you’re clueless and you can’t cite modern literature to support your biased view. Equality will never be wrong. Gay men and women deserve to recognized for their ability to serve their country openly without fear of retribution from the military or their leadership. There’s no reason to continue to allow this institutional discrimination to exist in America. It’s the only institution that is so archaic that it hosts such bigotry. To repeal DADT is the right thing to do and certainly not an OUTRAGE as Mr. Queen suggests. The gay agenda is always about bringing about equal rights for gays and lesbians no matter where it exists. Mr. Queens supposition that the open participation of the gay /lesbian community will jeopardize the nations security is nothing more than a cheap scare tactic reminiscent of the days of McCarthyism. It’s time to apply the equal rights amendment to the U.S. military. Overlooking this grievous mistake has been a travesty to too many hard working trustworthy Americans.

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