'Don't ask' repeal could come up for a vote in the Senate Wednesday

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidMurkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump Cortez Masto says she's not interested in being Biden VP Nevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast MORE (D-Nev.) said he plans to bring up the 2011 defense authorization bill for debate as early as Wednesday.

The massive defense policy bill contains the provision to repeal the "Don't ask, don't tell" law. Reid's first attempt to bring up the defense bill earlier this year failed to garner the 60 necessary votes to start debate.

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Without passage of the 2011 defense authorization bill this year, the chances for a repeal of the ban on gays serving openly in the military 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 LevinCarl Milton LevinSenator Tom Coburn's government oversight legacy The Trumpification of the federal courts Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (D-Mich), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a chief supporter of repeal, told reporters on Tuesday that Democrats have a "good shot" at getting the 60 votes necessary to start debating the defense bill.

But Reid's plan to reconsider the defense authorization bill may fail. His move depends on whether there will be any Republican senators breaking with their caucus on their pledge to not back any bills until the Senate passes a bill funding the government in 2011 and a deal on tax cuts is complete. 

Levin indicated that 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 Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump GOP Sen. Murkowski 'struggling' with whether to vote for Trump MORE (Maine), George Voinovich (Ohio), Scott Brown (Mass.), Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump hits John Kelly for defense of Jim Mattis OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Murkowski, Mattis criticism ratchets up pressure on GOP over Trump| Esper orders hundreds of active-duty troops outside DC sent home day after reversal | Iran releases US Navy veteran Michael White Trump vows to campaign against Murkowski after senator's criticism MORE (Alaska) and Olympia Snow (Maine).

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of lead sponsors of repeal, on Wednesday issued a statement 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 President 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 and Sam Youngman contributed to this report.

This story was originally posted at 9:58 a.m. and last updated at 2:42 p.m.