Is ‘Don’t Ask’ repeal DOA?

Tom Sileo Contributor
Font Size:

A repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?” Don’t bet on it.

The window for action on reversing the ban on gays in the military is quickly closing, and the path to undoing the 17-year-old law is riddled with roadblocks: a crowded lame-duck calendar, Democratic defectors, and emboldened Republican senators who have no desire to hand a legislative victory to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

If Democrats fail to pass the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” next month — before Republicans take control of the House in January — it could be years before they get another shot.

“Unless Democrats completely neglect the tax-hike issue and everything else they’ve been talking about lately, like the DREAM Act, the START treaty and controversial nominees, they won’t be able to finish it,” said one senior Senate GOP aide.

The repeal of “don’t ask” has been attached to the defense authorization bill, and Senate Republicans have already blocked the bill once before over this issue.

And while advocates scrape for 60 votes to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” there is no clear path to passage if the repeal remains embedded in the larger defense bill.

Reid (D-Nev.) pledged this week to bring the bill to the floor again next month, saying Congress must end “this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.” And Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who has led the fight for repeal, said Thursday he was “confident” there are at least 60 votes in the Senate to overcome another GOP filibuster.

“The movement to end the injustice of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is alive and well, and we’re going to keep fighting in the spirit of the American military until we get the job done,” said Lieberman, who was joined at a Capitol Hill news conference by a dozen Democratic senators who support the repeal.

But a handful of those 60 votes come with a condition: that both Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agree to allow senators to offer amendments to and have an extensive debate on the bill.

Reid, however, doesn’t want an amendment free for all, and McConnell — who’s about to usher in a much larger class of Senate Republicans — isn’t compromising on any major issues these days.

McConnell’s office released a statement Thursday, questioning why Democrats are pushing the “don’t ask” repeal, the immigration-related DREAM Act and other issues when Americans say their top concern is the economy.

Lieberman said at least two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Dick Lugar of Indiana, indicated they would vote to take up the defense bill if there is a “fair and open amendment process.” And a spokesman for Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said she may support the bill if a host of conditions are met.

“This is a weighty, policy-laden bill that normally takes several weeks to debate and amend,” said Murkowski spokesman Michael Brumas. “If the majority attempts to push it through, allowing little or no debate or votes on amendments, Sen. Murkowski would be inclined to oppose those efforts.”

Two more wavering senators, Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) also are in play. Both voted against repeal of “don’t ask,” but they also voted in committee for the defense authorization bill, which includes repeal language. That’s two more yes votes that repeal advocates should be able to count on their side, according to one Senate staffer. And retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) is thought to still be in play.

But for every new potential Republican who jumps aboard, there are other Democrats wavering. Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, both moderate Arkansas Democrats, voted with Republicans to block the bill the last time it was considered in September. And Pryor said Thursday he’d likely vote no again in the lame duck.

“I might vote no on that again,” he said. “I hadn’t made a final decision yet, but I’d be leaning that way.”

Full story: Is ‘don’t ask’ repeal DOA?