Sen. John McCain on Thursday sharply criticized Democratic leaders for trying to piggyback policies regarding gays in the military and illegal immigrants onto a defense bill that authorizes spending for national security programs.
The Arizona Republican called Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s push to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and to grant citizenship to some children of illegal immigrants “a transparent attempt to win an election” and to ram through the “social agenda of the liberal left.”
“This is turning legislation related to our national defense and military preparedness into a vehicle to force a partisan agenda through the Senate,” he said. “What’s worse, the majority leader is pushing this controversial agenda under the cover of supporting our troops, knowing that the National Defense Authorization Act is a must-pass bill, and whatever else is in it will inevitably become law as a result.”
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, has come under fire from Republicans since he rolled out plans this week to add amendments to the defense authorization bill to end the military policy that bars openly gay men and women from serving in the military, and to embrace the so-called Dream Act, a plan that creates a path to citizenship for some children of illegal immigrants.
On Thursday, Mr. Reid defended his plan by saying, “Sen. McCain should know better than anyone that patriots who step up to serve our grateful nation should be offered a path to citizenship, and that anyone who volunteers to serve should be welcomed regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Mr. Reid also indicated that the Senate will consider the bill next week and called on Mr. McCain and his fellow Republicans to drop threats to block the bill.
“I hope that he will do the right thing and support this bill that not only funds critical support for our troops like weapons upgrades and pay raises, but also ensures that our military reflects our nation’s values,” he said.
The battles over gays in the military and illegal immigrants have heated up since 2008 elections, when Democrats won control of the White House and Congress with promises to change the military law and enact comprehensive immigration reform.
The debate over the 16-year-old “don’t ask, don’t tell” law moved to the forefront in February after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for an end to the policy.
Illegal immigration started to dominate the political world again in April after Arizona enacted a law that aggressively targeted illegal immigrants living and working in the state.
A federal judge’s ruling that blocked the most controversial parts of the law has done little to cool the debate over how to fix the immigration system.
Under Mr. Reid’s Dream Act, those who migrate to the U.S. before age 16 and who have been in the country for five years would be able get their resident green cards after they go to college or serve in the military.
About 1 1/2 months before an election that will decide whether Democrats continue to control Capitol Hill, it is clear that Mr. Reid and other lawmakers are eager to move the conversation away from the economy and toward issues that could boost their electoral prospects and attract powerful voting blocs, including military families, “tea party” members and Hispanics.
“Unfortunately, the Democrats’ whole game plan over the past year and a half and through today is to tick as many items as possible off their liberal wish list while they have a chance,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Thursday. “Well, the American people think our friends on the other side should have spent a little more time worrying about 10 percent unemployment than on legislative sideshows.”
Republicans have accused Mr. Reid of circumventing the normal committee and airing-out processes for the proposals in order to entice the Hispanic vote and extend his political career beyond the end of the year.
The GOP is also quick to note that minutes after outlining his plans on Tuesday, Mr. Reid issued a press release bashing his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, for her stance on immigration issues.
Mrs. Angle, a darling of the tea party who is in a dead heat in polls with the veteran lawmaker, responded with a television ad in which the narrator calls Mr. Reid “the best friend an illegal immigrant ever had.”
Calling both of his proposals long overdue, Mr. Reid on Thursday said that the change in immigration law “will ensure that millions of children who grow up as Americans will be able to get the education they need to contribute to our economy” and that “everyone who steps up to serve our country should and will be welcomed regardless of sexual orientation.”
Mr. McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, countered that it was premature for Congress to change the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy without having a thorough review, input from military leaders and findings from a Defense Department survey scheduled to be completed in December that will analyze the impact of a repeal of the law.
“The majority is doing this in complete disregard of the views of our men and women in uniform as well as the heads of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines who are responsible for the battlefield effectiveness of their services,” he said.