Senate fails on repeal of 'Don't ask, don't tell' included in defense authorization bill

The Senate on Thursday dealt a severe blow to the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law, dimming the chances for the Clinton-era ban to be scrapped this year.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) failed to garner the necessary 60 votes for a procedural motion to start considering the 2011 defense authorization bill, which contains a provision to repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military. The final vote was 57-40.

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But shortly after the vote, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he would introduce a free-standing bill to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Lieberman said that Reid agreed to bring legislation to the floor and that he would introduce it as soon as Thursday. The language would mirror the language in the defense authorization bill.

Lieberman said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who supported Thursday's motion to proceed, would join him in introducing the free-standing bill. Armed Services Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also expressed support.

"I am 100 percent supportive of the stand-alone bill to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell' that Sens. Lieberman and Collins have now proposed, and indeed I will co-sponsor that legislation," Levin said in a statement on Thursday. "It is time for this discriminatory policy to end, and I am willing to pursue any effective legislative path that could lead to that result."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday signaled she would back the stand-alone bill in the House if it passes the Senate.

“Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has broad support among Senators, our troops, and the American people, it is my hope that that the Senate will move forward with an alternative legislative method," Pelosi said in a statement. "The bipartisan proposal from Senators Lieberman and Collins provides renewed hope that progress is still possible in the Senate; an army of allies stands ready in the House to pass a standalone repeal of the discriminatory policy once the Senate acts." 

The Thursday motion failed after most Republicans stuck to their pledge to block any bills until a deal is reached on the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and government spending for 2011 is resolved.

President Obama said he was "extremely disappointed that yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward" on the legislation. His statement also praised Collins's for supporting the bill.


"I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill.  While today’s vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts.  I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session," he said in the statement.

Republican Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), who have expressed support for repealing the law, both voted no. So did Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

Several Republicans have indicated they would support scrapping the ban, but say they want to see an open debate process on the defense authorization bill, including the ability to offer a series of amendments. Those Republicans included Collins, Murkowski and Brown.

Lieberman said that "process" had triumphed over "principles" in Thursday's vote.

Murkowski's statement of support on Wednesday for repealing the Clinton-era law had given repeal advocates the certainty that they would have the 60 votes necessary to make repeal happen.

But Collins, the GOP's chief negotiator on the defense bill, on Thursday said she was "perplexed" and "frustrated" that Reid would allow the defense bill to become the "victim" of politics. Collins had wanted more time to debate amendments.

Supporters of repealing the law expressed hope at the post-vote developments.

"Thankfully a bipartisan group of Senators has committed to finding an alternative method of achieving repeal," said Human Rights Campaign president  Joe Solmonese. "We encourage all senators to expeditiously take up this bill and pass it quickly so that the military has the power to implement a repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'"

-- Michael O'Brien contributed to this article.

-- This article was updated at 5:01 p.m. and 5:41 p.m.