The Senate Tuesday afternoon rejected a motion to break a Republican-led filibuster against an annual defense spending bill that includes language aimed at ending the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" law banning out gays. The vote was 56 to 43.
The vote was uncertain all the way up to the vote, started at 2:30 eastern time, as Democratic leaders were reportedly trying to negotiate an agreement with one or two senators to reach the 60 votes they needed to proceed. But Republicans stood united in their contention that a procedural restriction placed on consideration of the annual defense spending bill was politically motivated to win the votes of LGBT people and Latinos for the mid-term elections in November.
In the end, all seven moderate Republicans who were identified as potential supporters on the motion to proceed on the defense bill voted “no,” as did Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s rule called for only three amendments to be considered during discussion of the defense authorization bill this week – amendments on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), immigration, and a Senate rule on secret holds on nominations. All other amendments, he said, would be taken up after the mid-term elections.
Republican leadership immediately balked and charged Reid with playing politics with the defense bill. They refused to grant the necessary unanimous consent to proceed with consideration of the bill. So, Reid filed a motion last week to require the Senate to vote Tuesday on a motion to proceed without unanimous consent. That motion required 60 votes.
But there was no confidence that even all 59 Democrats would agree. Reports were circulating even as late as Tuesday afternoon that Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) might balk. But in the end, Webb stuck with Democrats and voted to proceed.
Pro-repeal advocates identified seven moderate Republicans they thought might be persuaded to vote for cloture, but on Monday, one of those – Olympia Snowe of Maine — said no, and on Tuesday morning Susan Collins of Maine and George LeMieux of Florida joined her in refusing to cross the partisan divide.
Snowe said she believes DADT warrants a “thorough review,” but she said the Senate should hold off its vote on repeal until after the Pentagon submits its report on implementation of repeal. The report is due Dec. 1.
Snowe also said she objected to Reid’s limiting of debate to just three amendments.
Collins, who supports the DADT repeal language, expressed anguish at Reid’s limiting the amendments. Even though she supports repeal of DADT, said Collins, “I will defend the right of my colleagues to offer amendments on this issue and others. They deserve to have a civil, fair, and open debate on the Senate floor.”
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said on the floor Tuesday morning that he, too, would oppose proceeding to the defense bill, saying he believed there should be an “open amendment” process.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Collins raised some “legitimate objections,” and he assured both senators there would be an “open process.” But he said there could be consideration of no amendments unless the Senate agrees to proceed to the defense authorization bill.
Reid did allow Republicans 15 minutes additional to debate the motion and enabled Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to propose a different procedure – one that would have apparently enabled unlimited amendments, the first 20 of which would have to be defense-related and none of which could relate to immigration. Reid, looking impatient, characterized McConnell’s proposal as partisan bickering per usual and objected, forcing the motion for cloture to vote immediately.
Republicans had been beating a drum for the past week that two of the three amendments Reid would allow were non-defense related and shouldn’t be part of the discussion. Log Cabin Republicans, which supports repeal of DADT, issued a press release Monday calling Reid’s limit on amendments “partisan tactics” and urging Reid to allow other amendments.
But Levin disputed that argument. On the floor of the Senate Monday, he itemized all the non-defense related amendments that have been considered on the defense authorization bill in previous years – including years in which Republicans were in the majority. In particular, he emphasized an amendment offered in 2000 by Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), on campaign reform.
Much of the news leading up to Tuesday’s vote was focused on the involvement of popular performer Lady Gaga, who has used her various media platforms to direct attention to the effort to repeal DADT. On Monday, she led a rally in Portland, Maine, hoping to persuade the state’s two senators – Snowe and Susan Collins – to vote for cloture on Tuesday.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) questioned Levin’s claims that top military leaders support repeal, saying Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen is an appointee of President Obama and that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has not been an enthusiastic supporter of repeal. Sessions said Gates has simply “gone along” with President Obama’s directive. He noted that the chiefs of the various individual branches of military oppose the repeal.
Reid noted during Senate morning business Tuesday that the DADT amendment had been generating “all the attention” for the defense bill vote. He emphasized that the DADT law “is not repealed” by the language in the bill. Instead, he noted, the language provides for a process by which the law can be repealed.
That process requires that the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff all “certify” in writing that they have read the Pentagon report on how best to implement repeal and have considered whatever recommendations are made in the report. They must further certify that the necessary regulations to accompany repeal have been developed and that repeal is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
Minority Leader Mitchell said the cloture vote on the defense bill was a political tactic by Democrats seeking to “show special interest groups that they haven’t forgotten about them.”
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), one of the most ardent opponents of DADT repeal, said he was not opposed to debating repeal but was opposed to bringing up the defense bill before the Pentagon survey of troops is completed.
“This is all about elections,” said McCain, who contended that voting Tuesday on DADT would be “ignoring” the views of the troops.
“We are pursuing the social agenda of the Democratic party.”
Vice President Joe Biden said last week he was vigorously working for passage of the DADT repeal, but his schedule on Tuesday kept him in meetings at the White House. The White House issued a statement, through its Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday morning expressing support for the overall defense authorization bill. The statement listed 15 areas of “concern.” The fifth issue listed was DADT; the statement said it supports the language that calls for the certification process leading to repeal of DADT.
On MSNBC Tuesday, Alex Nicholson, head of Servicemembers United, criticized Reid for pushing the cloture vote without compromising on how many amendments could be heard.
“If Sen. Reid would just budge a little bit and come to an agreement on a reasonable way to proceed, we could potentially get the votes. But so far, he’s not been willing to do that, unfortunately.”
As Majority Leader, Reid has the option to bring the cloture motion up again at any point.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called today’s vote a “frustrating blow.”
“We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections,” said Sarvis. “Opponents to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay.”
Sarvis expressed concern that chances for repeal will dim considerably following the mid-terms.
“We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we’ll have a slim shot,” said Sarvis. “The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us.”