Senator Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Senator Susan Collins, Maine Republican, expressed their disappointment on Thursday night over a failed motion that would have moved the Defense Authorization Bill (containing the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell) forward towards a vote.
Mr. Lieberman and Ms. Collins told reporters they were blind-sided by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who brought the bill to the floor in the early evening for a vote. According to Senators Lieberman and Collins, Mr. Reid promised to call for a vote only after a procedural agreement was met with Ms. Collins.
Senator Collins voted in favor of the measure today, but other Republicans who support the repeal of DADT, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, voted “no” on the measure citing concerns over legislative procedure.
“I want to make clear, however, that I’m not at all happy with the way this bill was handled and it’s also puzzling to me, because it doesn’t accomplish the goal and there was a clear path forward to victory on this issue and to consideration on this bill. For the life of me I cannot understand why the majority leader chose not to take it,” said Ms. Collins.
Conservative activists are critical of the recent Pentagon report which surveyed military members on their thoughts of DADT. The report showed that military members could serve among individuals who are openly gay. A recent Washington Times editorial notes that military members were not asked if they support the repeal of DADT:
“Throughout this debate, the focus has been on what overturning current policy would mean for recruitment, retention and combat readiness,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and member of the House Armed Services Committee. “In going over the 100-plus-question survey, there are only a handful of questions pertaining to direct combat experience and, even then, the questions do little to provide any insight into how combat units might be impacted. That is a critical distinction that the report fails to identify.”
Social conservative groups also blasted the survey. “Sadly, today’s report, and the 10 months of work by the Comprehensive Review Working Group, may be of little value to Congress, because they failed to address the central question - whether overturning the current law would enhance our nation’s ability to fight and win wars,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. “By beginning with the premise that the law would be overturned, and exploring only how to implement such a change, the conclusion that such a change would be feasible was foreordained.”
Mr. Lieberman responded to my question on these concerns from Republicans and social conservative activists, saying:
“I think Secretary Gates had the best response that military doesn’t run by public opinion. He doesn’t poll the members of the military when he decides how long deployment should be or when we should go into Afghanistan and same is true here, but the survey done about this issue is the most comprehensive survey ever done of the American military on any issue,” he said.
Senator Collins defended her vote on Thursday and explained why she voted differently on the matter as opposed to her September vote on the Defense bill.
“In September when Harry Reid brought the bill to the floor, he made very clear that he was not going to allow any amendments nor for any kind of extended debate, and that was just wrong,” said Senator Collins. “I wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity despite the vigorous debate that Senator Reid and I had right before the vote today. It is evident that he is prepared to allow for relevant amendments to be offered to the bill. So that’s a very different situation we face.”
Senator Lieberman pointed out that there is enough support for repealing DADT as stand-alone legislation. He said, “We got at least 60 votes, but we’re not kidding ourselves. This is not going to be easy. On the other hand, if you have a free-standing bill, Senator Reid is willing to bring it to the floor for a vote.”
“It’s going to be a much more limited debate. Relevant amendments will be more limited, and of course, if people are really set on obstructing this, they can force us to have filibuster votes a couple of times,” he added. “But then again, this is important enough to take a little time. They can force thirty hours of debate in the beginning and force thirty hours before it leaves the Senate. We’ll stay here as long as necessary to get this done.”
Mr. Lieberman believes that Senator Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and chair of the Armed Services Committee will likely bring the defense bill back but without the repeal of DADT.
“I know there’s a couple of other matters that are waiting, but clearly the priority now is taxes and spending,” said the Connecticut Senator when asked if he asked Mr. Reid if DADT legislation would be brought up before or after the vote on tax rate extension legislation.