In a disappointing development for proponents of repealing the military’s anti-gay “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, the Senate failed to clear a procedural obstacle to bring the National Defense Authorization Act, of which repeal legislation is a part, to the floor for a vote.
Only 57 senators, three short of the needed number, voted to bring the bill to the floor, leveling a severe blow to the efforts to repeal DADT before Congress’ lame-duck session expires at the end of the year and members return home for the holiday break.
According to the New York Times, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was lobbied for months to secure the needed 60 votes to pass the bill, prior to bringing it to the floor. But on Dec. 9, knowing he was likely short of that number, Reid abruptly changed his strategy and called for a procedural vote. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), the bill’s Republican advocate, was “blindsided” by Reid’s move and urged him to wait until she had more Republican support. Reid went forward, and the bill failed. Collins was the only Republican to vote in favor of passage.
“I am extremely disappointed that yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act,” said President Obama, who had made DADT repeal a campaign promise in 2008, in a statement released after the vote. “Despite having the bipartisan support of a clear majority of senators, a minority of senators are standing in the way of the funding upon which our troops, veterans and military families depend.”
Despite the National Defense Authorization Act’s failure in the Senate, Senator Collins and Senator Joseph I. Lierberman (I-Conn.) are moving forward with a standalone piece of legislation, exclusively focused on DADT repeal, which they hope to expedite through Senate procedures and bring for a vote before Congress leaves for vacation. Some Senators and LGBT rights groups, however, hint that the bill will face an “uphill battle.”
“Over the past few days we’ve seen a number of Senators speak out for repeal, and it’s clear that under the right circumstances, we can get above the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. What got in the way was procedure,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “Thankfully a bipartisan group of senators has committed to finding an alternative method of achieving repeal. We encourage all senators to 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’.”
Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, said in a statement that he supports “any viable option” to repeal DADT this year. “We need to be on the bill that moves, period. We support Sen. Lieberman’s plan to move a standalone bill.”