September 20, 2010 at 9:29 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Levin uncertain about ‘Don’t Ask’ vote count

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Monday expressed uncertainty over whether the Senate would have sufficient votes to move forward with major defense budget legislation containing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

During a news conference, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he doesn’t know whether there are 60 votes to end a filibuster and move forward with the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill.

The vote for cloture on the legislation, which has language that would lead to the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” is set for Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.

“I hope we can get to cloture,” Levin said. “I know a number of you will ask the question, ‘Do we have the votes?’ My answer is, ‘I don’t know whether we have the votes or not.’ I haven’t done a whip check.”

Levin said he hopes the votes are present to move forward with the defense authorization bill because of “critically important” provisions in the legislation related to military pay and weapons systems.

Provided all 59 Democrats in the Senate vote in favor of cloture, at least one Republican vote is needed to move forward with the defense authorization bill, but GOP leadership is reportedly withholding support for the bill because of a limit imposed on the number of amendments that can be offered on the floor.

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

Sources have told the Blade that moderate Republicans, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), are seeking concessions from Democratic leadership in exchange for breaking with the Republican caucus and voting for cloture.

Levin said he’s unaware of any concessions that Collins or other Republicans are seeking over the defense authorization bill. Still, he said he’s spoken with the Maine senator about a previous version of the unanimous consent agreement.

“She and I talked about the consent agreement,” Levin said. “She had some difficulty with it. It wasn’t that she would vote for it if it were changed. That’s not what we talked about. It was she had some difficulty with an earlier draft, and, frankly, I thought she was right.”

Levin said he didn’t ask Collins during this conversation about how the Maine senator intended to vote on the cloture measure on Tuesday.

Asked by the Blade what would happen if cloture isn’t invoked on Tuesday, Levin said an unsuccessful vote would be a “real setback” and said he couldn’t predict what would happen if the bill came up again after Election Day.

“Anyone who tries to predict what will happen in lame duck has got a lot more courage than I do,” Levin said.

A failure to pass the defense authorization bill would almost be unprecedented. A Democratic aide said during the news conference that Congress has passed defense authorization legislation every year for the past 48 years.

If cloture is invoked on Tuesday, opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal would have the opportunity to strip out the repeal language through an amendment on the Senate floor.

Levin said he doesn’t know what opponents of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are planning when the Senate proceeds tomorrow with the legislation.

“I don’t know what we’re going to see on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,'” Levin said. “It’s going to be up to people — if we can get to cloture — who will offer the amendment.”

A Democratic aide said the votes needed to strip the repeal language from the legislation would be either 51 or 60, depending on the agreement reached between majority and minority leadership.

But the main focus of Levin’s news conference was to address arguments from McCain, who has objected to advancing the defense authorization bill on the basis that non-germane amendments are planned for the legislation.

“For many, many years, we never put any extraneous items on the [defense authorization] bill, because it was so important to defense and we just didn’t allow it,” McCain said, according to a Levin statement. “Starting last year, Carl Levin and Harry Reid put hate crimes on it.”

McCain on the floor last week lamented that hate crimes protections legislation was signed into law last year as an amendment to FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act.

During today’s news conference, Levin noted that hate crimes legislation had been attached to defense authorization legislation three additional times prior to 2009, although the measure never made it to the president’s desk before last year.

“Sen. McCain is incorrect on at least two accounts in the one statement,” Levin said. “Last year was not the first time that hate crimes legislation was added to the defense authorization bill … and it was approved by an overwhelming bi-partisan majority each of those three previous times.”

Levin also said other non-germane amendments had been considered as part of the defense authorization bill, including measures on concealed weapons, indecency standards as well as a previous amendment on “secret holds.”

An amendment for campaign finance reform that McCain sponsored in 2000 was also considered as part of the defense authorization bill, according to Levin.

“If we want to give these men and women in the military confidence in their government, we should have fully disclosed who it is that contributes to the political campaigns,” McCain said in 2000, according to a Levin statement.

Levin said he defended McCain’s right to offer this amendment in 2000 as he plans to defend the right of anyone who introduces the DREAM Act this year.

“People have a right to use the rules here and to suggest anything to the contrary is just simply inaccurate and I think has no place in the debate,” Levin said.

McCain’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Levin’s remarks.

Also during the presser, Levin disputed an account that the DREAM Act would be attached to the defense authorization bill as part of a manager’s amendment that would be inclusive of defense-related items.

A Republican source had earlier told the Blade that Democratic leadership was planning consideration of the DREAM Act and a manager’s amendment as one measure.

“That’s news to me,” Levin said. “I would love to know where you heard it. I’d like to check your source.”

Still, Levin said he expects the DREAM Act to be the first amendment offered to the defense authorization bill on Tuesday following a successful cloture vote.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

  • If the Democrats can’t make this happen, then we need to replace EVERY single one of them and start over. HOW F’in PATHETIC that they do not have the ability to make this happen..or make ANYTHING happen. Do nothing Democrats + our “fierce” worthless advocate. Yawn.

  • 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?

  • The Dems had better not screw this vote up, and despite what they say, it isn’t the Republicans they are worried about, its their fellow Democrats, some of whom don’t support the Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. At least after the vote we will know which Dems voted with the GOP to betray us so we can leave them hanging the next time they are up for election. God knows Pelosi and Reid should have had enough sense to move ENDA forward before DADT, and what about the Domestic Partnership Benefits * Obligations Act, which passed out of committees in the House & Senate none months ago? DPBO is just waiting for Pelosi and Reid to schedule floor votes, so I want to know why they are stalling us. As for the House, they should already be working on a vote on DBPO & ENDA instead of doing nothing and watching the Senate’s action on DADT.

  • We DON’T have 60 votes in the US Senate and we never have.

    National polls don’t do anything for Senators in States with high religious-intensity, in fact polling there has majorities against repeal.

    Calls, emails and faxes to politicians are useless. Anyone who thinks a US Senator tallies up calls and emails – instead of legitimate polling data – is just childish.

  • Here let me sum this up for my fellow gay suckers that keep bowing to democrats that keep stringing them along. SUPER MAJORITY…… what happened to that?

    IT really is that simple people….. the dems need this to go for all it’s worth……….why on earth do people think they didn’t do anything about immigration reform when they had a SUPER MAJORITY? It really is that simple and it’s always been that simple …..

    John Edwards vs Dick Cheney VP debate. I believe a marriage is between a man and a woman. It really is that simple people.

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