Senate postpones 'Don't ask' vote at GOP's request

The Senate postponed a planned Wednesday vote on repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law after Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chief GOP negotiator, asked for a delay.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had pushed to hold a procedural vote on the legislation Wednesday night, but before the bill came to the floor, the Senate announced there would be no more roll call votes for the evening.

ADVERTISEMENT
The delay comes as Democrats were solidifying support among their party for the repeal and trying to get as many GOP votes as possible. Several Democrats, including Sens. Jim Webb (Va.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), clarified Wednesday they would vote to proceed with debate on the 2011 defense authorization bill, which includes the repeal of the law banning openly gay and lesbian military members.

The problem Wednesday night was the pledge Republican senators took not to back any additional legislation until the Senate passes a bill funding the government for 2011 and a deal on tax cuts is complete.

Collins said she and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) reminded Reid of that when they pushed for the postponement.

“I reminded the majority leader, as has Sen. Lieberman, that everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first,” Collins said. “So I have urged the majority leader to postpone the vote, which he is threatening to hold tonight, so we can get the tax deal considered first — which could be on the floor tomorrow and completed by Saturday — and then move immediately to the DoD bill but under a more fair agreement.

“If he does that, I’ll do everything I can to help him proceed to the bill. But if he does not do that, then I will not. This is the same position that I’ve had all along ... if you really care about the defense authorization and the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ then you would accept the proposal.”

It’s unknown if Reid will try to bring up the legislation Thursday before debate begins on the tax-cut deal negotiated this week between President Obama and Senate Republicans.

Collins is a critical GOP vote for Democrats. The majority, assuming every Democrat votes the party line, needs at least two Republican votes to reach the necessary 60 votes to begin debate.

Reid’s first attempt to bring up the defense bill earlier this year failed to garner the 60 necessary votes to start debate.

Without passage of the 2011 defense authorization bill this year, the chances for a repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” are dimmer next year, when Republicans will hold a greater number of seats in the Senate as well as the majority in the House. The GOP is generally more skeptical of the administration’s plan for repeal.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a chief supporter of repeal, told reporters Tuesday that Democrats have a “good shot” at getting the 60 votes necessary to start debating the defense bill.

Levin indicated the Senate — constrained by a short and crowded schedule — must take up the defense authorization bill before a final deal on tax issues.

“If we wait until there is a finalized deal or vote on tax issues, we may be here another week before that happens. I don’t know when that’s going to happen,” Levin told reporters on Wednesday. “But if we have any chance of getting a bill done, including, hopefully, a repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell,’ it’s got to be done this week. There’s just no way that we can get a bill to the Senate floor, have a reasonable debate, be open to amendments, and then get it to a conference with the possibility that there will filibusters of the appointment of conferees — there’s no way we have even a hope of doing it unless we get a vote, 60 votes this week.”

Levin declined to say whether he would try to move a defense authorization bill without a repeal of the ban.

Notwithstanding the GOP caucus’ threat to filibuster, even Republicans inclined to vote in favor of repeal have linked their support to various caveats, including process and time to debate a number of amendments to the massive defense bill. Supporters of repeal are pegging their hopes on Collins, Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio), Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Olympia Snowe (Maine).

Murkowski said Wednesday she favors repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law but that her vote comes with conditions.

“This is a weighty, policy-laden bill that normally takes several weeks to debate and amend,” she said in a statement. “If the majority attempts to push it through allowing little or no debate or votes on amendments, I will be inclined to oppose those efforts.”

Lieberman issued a statement Wednesday that said there are 60-plus votes in support of repealing the Clinton-era ban. He cautioned, however, that he is still working on an agreement to move forward with the defense policy bill.

“I remain confident that we can reach an agreement, which is necessary before any vote on the motion to reconsider is taken,” Lieberman said in a statement. “I am working closely with Senator Reid and Senator Collins and other members who want to reach a fair and reasonable agreement to move the defense authorization bill that is so essential to the needs of our troops, veterans, and their families.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that a repeal of the policy is “very, very close.”



Gibbs said Obama has been making phone calls to lawmakers in the last few days on the issue.

Obama is “hopeful” the repeal will be passed before Congress adjourns for the year, he said.



— Alexander Bolton, Jordan Fabian and Sam Youngman contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 6:38 p.m.