Sen. Reid is derailing NDAA legislation

 Is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) trying to thwart the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a historic provision to repeal the discriminatory “Don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) law, before the mid-term elections? It sure appears that way judging by the stunts being pulled with this very important piece of annual legislation. 

Service members and veterans are quite accustomed to being used as political footballs, and the practice needs to stop. It likely will not, so it at least needs to be called out when it occurs.

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Just more than 60 votes had been lined up to break a filibuster on NDAA and allow the legislation to move forward for debate, amendments and a final vote before the Senate adjourns for yet another month-and-a-half-long recess. That was until Sen. Reid announced he was going to use his status as Senate Majority Leader to block the minority’s customary ability to also offer their amendments to the massive annual defense-spending bill.

This unusual and controversial move by Sen. Reid predictably enraged all Republicans, including the few who were previously prepared to help break the filibuster and allow a repeal-inclusive NDAA to move forward. And who can blame them? This isn’t a very fair move on Sen. Reid’s part, and it wasn’t a very fair move at points in the past when Republicans did it either.

This is a very important bill this year for the nearly 80 percent of the American public that supports the repeal of the odious DADT law. Because of the inclusion of this historic provision in NDAA this year, the public, especially the progressive community, has become more enlightened as to the procedural and political nuances of NDAA.

While some organizations have noticeably cut the White House and the Senate leadership some slack, other groups like Servicemembers United have stepped up the effort to educate the public about the lesser known political maneuvers and choices that can make or break our issues with NDAA.

For example, Servicemembers United spent a great deal of time in the spring pushing out the little known fact that it would be the defense legislative policy transmittals that follow the defense budget, not the defense budget itself, in which the president could insert DADT repeal language if he so chose. This effort enabled activists to keep the pressure on the president by preempting his common response of “I already support the repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’” The new rallying cry became “Insert the language!” toward the end of the spring, and activists were right on target in continuing to demand that the White House “insert the language” well after the defense budget had been transmitted. 

Just as we raised the progressive community’s consciousness on that nuanced fact of defense legislative politics, so, too, will we do it on the ways in which Sen. Reid is now derailing NDAA and the repeal of DADT with obscure Senate rules, procedures, and privileges. Observers are already catching on to the fact that Sen. Reid is setting himself up to simply say “I tried” when Republicans vote to filibuster NDAA on Tuesday, but “I tried” will not be good enough anymore.

We see through this trick, and we’ll make sure everyone else does, too. If NDAA fails this week because of cheap political stunts, we will ensure it is the Senate leadership that is held accountable, not the unreasonably slighted minority.


Nicholson is the founder and Executive Director of Servicemembers United, which is the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, and the Servicemembers United Action Fund.