September 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Reid files cloture on 'Don't Ask' legislation

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

The U.S. Senate took the initial steps of moving forward with the issue of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture on major defense budget legislation that includes repeal language.

Reid’s motion to proceed on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill was met with objection by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), prompting Reid to move to end debate by filing cloture.

This manuever means a vote to start official consideration of the defense bill and amendments will take place Tuesday at 2:15 pm. Moving forward will require 60 votes from members for the U.S. Senate.

On the Senate floor, Reid said after a successful vote for cloture on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have an opportunity to strip the bill of this language as well as address other matters senators may find controversial.

“I understand there are issues that I’ve talked about the last couple of days and many other important matters that colleagues on both sides of the aisle wish to address,” Reid said.

Reid also said he expects the time before lawmakers break again for recess after the first week of October will be spent on debating and voting on amendments on the defense authorization bill.

The majority leader predicted a final vote on the legislation as a whole won’t take place until the lame duck session in November.

“I’m willing to work with Senate Republicans … to complete this bill as soon as possible, which likely will be after the recess,” Reid said.

McCain, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Commitee, objected to consideration of the defense authorization bill because he said the Democratic leadership is planning amendments unrelated to the U.S. military.

The Arizona senator said Reid’s plans to attach to the legislation the DREAM Act, an immigration-related bill, and a measure addressing the “secret holds” U.S. senators can place on presidential nominations aren’t appropriate for defense legislation.

McCain also lamented how a hate crimes protections measure was attached last year to Fiscal Year 2010 Defense Authorization Act.

“Under this majority leader, we have witnessed the unfortunate and growing politicization of the national defense authorization act,” McCain said. “Time to offer and debate important, defense-related amendments to this bill on the floor is being limited or cut off, so that the majority leader can push through highly political legislation that has little or nothing to do with national defense — legislation that would never be referred to the [Senate] Armed Services Committee if it were introduced independently.”

McCain also expressed discontent with the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal language in the bill, but had a notable change in rhetoric from what he’s said previously on the provision.

The senator acknowledged the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” provision has relevance to the U.S. armed forces. McCain also said he has no position on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal at this time, but wants to wait for the Pentagon working group to complete its study on the issue on Dec. 1.

“I want to make one thing very clear: I do not oppose or support the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ at this time, but I do oppose taking legislative action prior to the completion of a real and thorough review of the law,” McCain said. “A complete survey to evaluate the impact of repeal on the men and women serving in our military should be concluded before moving forward.”

Many speculated McCain previously had stronger objection to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal earlier this year because he was facing a challenge from conservative J.D. Hayworth in a Republican primary.

But the primary has since taken place and McCain has emerged as the victor. The Arizona senator now faces a general election against a Democrat.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) responded to McCain’s objection to proceeding by noting the Senate has taken up amendments on a variety of issues to defense authorization legislation in previous years.

“The Senate as a body has right to offer amendments which are not germane or relevant,” Levin said.

Levin said the Senate has previously considered amendments to defense authorization bills on indecency standards, minimum wage, welfare reform and the death penalty for drug-related killings.

“I didn’t hear anybody make the charge at that the time that somehow or another the Senate rules were being utilized to bring to the floor of the Senate an amendment which wasn’t directly related to the bill in front of us,” Levin said.

Activists target McCain

Earlier on Thursday, activists affiliated with GetEQUAL interrupted a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to persuade McCain to drop his objection to moving forward with the legislation., according to a statement from the organization.

Working in conjunction with HERO, an Arizona-based grassroots group, activists interrupted the hearing in the Dirksen Senate Office Building while holding up images of those who obstructed civil rights in the past, such as former Alabama Gov. George Wallace.

Additionally, they held up signs saying, “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ do you want to be the next George Wallace?” and “Senator McCain repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ it’s not too late to change your legacy.”

Robin McGehee, co-founder of GetEQUAL, said in a statement the protest was necessary because McCain is “more interested in placating the McCain-Palin wing of the Republican Party.”

“When 80 percent of the American people, the Joints Chiefs of Staff, military leaders, and active-duty  servicemembers all agree that it is past time we stop the firing of critical military personnel, you can be assured that you’re standing on the wrong side of history,” she said.

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

  • GetEQUAL continues to make the LGBT Community look ignorant and childish. This latest publicity stunt doesn’t change any minds or votes or anything else. It just makes people view as an inconvenience and childish.

    The vote on DADT won’t take place until after the mid-terms – it will be 1994 all over again, then.

    Thankfully, respectable LGBT media has chosen to ignore the self-serving publicity stunts of GetEQUAL. They are simply trying to get attention so they can raise money. GetEqual is money wasted. Keep them on ignore. If we fund them, they continue to hurt us.

    • I’m a strong supporter of my fellow GLBT activist who work tirelessly to achieve our common goal of full equality. In this case, I agree with Andrew with some of GetEqual’s tactics. I admit in my 25+ years as a grassroots (non-paid) activists, I’ve been involved in some in your face civil disobedient actions, protests. have been arrested and spent time in jail cells. Back in the day, this was the way to bring awareness to our plight, have our voices heard and solicit fair-minded allies to our cause. As the GLBT civil rights movement has evolved, so, has our method of communicating and educating lawmakers and the public .Bullying, disruptive behavior and/or intimidation can backfire, causing more harm than good. As well as serve those who adamantly oppose GLBT equality, by giving them the ammunition they so desperately desire to further their anti-gay agenda, and make our community look bad as a whole.

      I’ve seen first hand how civil, respectful and open dialog with some opponents and especially those who are on the fence about GLBT equality, can indeed open their hearts and minds to listen. We must learn to work with-in the political system, supporting, not attacking, lawmakers or candidates who publicly endorse GLBT equality. Most importantly, remind them that we are in fact a strong voting block, and our votes can help to decide outcomes of elections.

      It’s not my intention to trash GetEqual or their work. Only to offer my suggestions on how they can use their resources and members in a more productive manner.

  • Please stop destroying the foundation of America. It seems like America is being completely crumbled. Why are we tearing apart our military with this frivolity? My husband has served 24 years in the Navy, he is a sweet heart and he knows of gays and lesbians and treats them very well. He always has. But when it comes to getting down to business on the ship, he does his job and he, like the rest of us that live the life of serving our country believe that this nonsense is a waste of energy and really pathetic frankly. Why can’t we stop spinning wheels on these petty things when we have so many people out of work? What about the straight men and women on ships and the battle field that don’t want to share berthings with lesbians or gay men? As a woman, I don’t want a lesbian or a man sharing a bathroom, shower or berthing with me!

  • Lesbian, gay and straight service members are ALREADY serving side by side. The only question is do we treat them all fairly and equally — free from discrimination, regardless of whether they are straight or gay. It is time to put our national security ahead of partisan politics and petty prejudices. Call your 2 U.S. Senators TODAY at 202-224-3121 and urge them to vote to REPEAL Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Call the Senate. 202-224-3121. Repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Vote is imminent, victory is up to us.

  • President Obama & Congress:

    You garnered our support (votes) during the election then immediately threw us under the bus on gay marriage right after the election. I voted for you on what you promised and now I regret it. If you don’t back the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell, regardless of the form it is represented in a bill I will never vote for another democrat in my life. Nothing is more important to me in my lifetime than this issue and I am tired of democrats talking the talk and then not walking the walk. I voted for you under this campaign issue and marriage and you threw us under the bus on the marriage issue. Do the same here and I will never vote for a democrat ever again. I don’t care who is running against you, I’ll vote against you because you lied.

    My views on the subject:
    Ok, it really kills me to read all of this garbage and that it’s still an issue in this country. I served in the Navy, had consistent 3.8 evals and was outed by an ex-friend. Next thing I know I am am getting hit on by complete strangers in nice clothes on the base??? I knew it was NIS personnel. What a joke, the fact that I did my job well didn’t matter and ofcourse I told the guy several times I didn’t know what he was talking about and he eventually stopped. The mere fact that they would waste taxpayer’s money on this when I was doing a great job astounds me. The next issue is the separate housing, what better way is there to label an anonymous person publicly within a society by seperating them and putting them in seperate housing? This action would expose all most every gay service member and is reminiscent of the Japanese internment camps of World War 2. It saddens me as an American that as a society we are still struggling with this issue. In most European Navies it’s no longer an issue. I’ve dealt with this for a long time and the problem isn’t about performance, it’s about ego and insecurity. What a waste.

    Michelle FYI, I spent a lot of time having to shower, berth with straight men. but as a gay man I wouldn’t have a problem sharing a bathroom, berthing or showering seperately in individual showers while you were present because on the Eisenhower we had individual showers. It’s about boundaries and civil rights, women are finally allowed to serve on ships and I was enlisted long before that was allowed. So you are ok with the change that US Navy Ships now allow women to serve aboard but are opposed to gay enlistment and service?

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