BREAKING: Senate confirms first openly gay man as federal district judge in Texas

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U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Robert Pitman to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, making him the first openly gay federal district court judge in Texas, according to reports by LGBTQNation.com.

The Western District court had been vacant for six years. The vote to confirm Pitman came late Tuesday evening, Dec. 16.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who has never been a friend of the LGBT community, is getting credit for Pitman being confirmed — but not because Cruz suddenly had a change of heart on LGBT issues.

In an effort to force a vote on what he called President Obama’s “illegal executive amnesty” for immigrants, Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, on Friday, Dec. 12,  scuttled a bipartisan agreement that would have prevented weekend votes in the Senate. The ban on weekend votes would have meant the Senate would have run out of time before being able to vote on confirming more than a dozen of the president’s judicial and executive nominees, including Pitman, who likely would not have been confirmed if they had been forced to wait until next year when the GOP will control the Senate.

But when Cruz and Lee sidelined the agreement, that opened the door for current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to call the Senate back into session on Saturday and get those votes through.

Pitman, a former magistrate judge in Austin, had led the San Antonio-based federal prosecuting office since 2011 when he became the first openly gay U.S. attorney in Texas. He had also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the same district from 1990 to 2003.

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING: Reid sets DADT vote for Saturday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will hold a cloture vote on the standalone measure to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” on Saturday, Think Progress’ The Wonk Room reports. Above is video of Reid filing for cloture on the DADT bill tonight after he abruptly pulled an omnibus spending bill off the floor due to a lack of votes. From The Wonk Room:

The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent argued that this is the best case scenario for repealing the policy since “[i]f Reid waits until New START is done before holding the vote on DADT, Senators could start going home once the treaty is resolved, dooming DADT repeal.” “By contrast, if the DADT repeal vote is done first, no Senator will leave Washington before START is resolved. So doing DADT repeal first doesn’t imperil START.”

To contact your senator, call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

—  John Wright

Texas senators go quiet on DADT repeal

Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein, left, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Dave Guy-Gainer, a local board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, reported Monday night:

“Well I tried again to meet with Senator Hutchison or her staff. The Dallas number rang busy all day Friday. So, I tried their fax and it went thru. I proposed an establish communications’ meeting with myself and four other, major Dallas leaders. It’s Monday nite and I didn’t hear squat back. Guess she isn’t interested in representing us at all.”

Dallas Voice also contacted the offices of both Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn on Monday to find out where they stand on the standalone measure to repeal DADT. But as of this morning, we had received no response — not even from Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin, who normally at least acknowledges our existence. After all, dealing with the media is part of McLaughlin’s taxpayer-funded job.

We also never heard back from McLaughlin about why Cornyn missed last week’s failed cloture vote on the Defense Authorization Act, to which DADT repeal was attached. (Hutchison voted against closure, joining the Republican filibuster that blocked the bill.)

This morning we contacted Rob Schlein, president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, to find out whether he’d had any contact with the two senators’ offices about DADT repeal.

Schlein said he has not but is pretty sure they will vote against it.

“I am going to say that I wouldn’t suspect that they would support it, just because that’s been their history,” Schlein said. “I really don’t know, but it won’t surprise me if they both vote against it. You’ve got to remember that part of the senators’ job is to vote their constituency. I know the polls show the majority of the nation supports repeal, but I’m sure that in Texas, the numbers are a little bit different.”

Schlein added that their votes aren’t really that important, because there’s enough Republican support to pass DADT repeal in the Senate. He again blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, for failing to pass DADT repeal sooner.

“The more interesting question is, will Reid put the bill on the floor without sabotaging it?” Schlein said. “If the process is right, if Reid doesn’t play any more games and he doesn’t attach any unrelated amendments like the DREAM Act, I think it will pass.”

If you’d like to try to contact the senators yourself, Hutchison is at 202-224-5922 and Cornyn is at 202-224-2934.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Senate blocks DADT repeal, but Collins, Lieberman to introduce stand-alone bill

CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS AND VIDEO FROM THURSDAY NIGHT’S DADT RALLY ON CEDAR SPRINGS

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Online Editor

In a major blow to repeal efforts, Senate Republicans on Thursday afternoon blocked the Defense spending bill that includes an amendment that would end “don’t ask don’t tell.”

However, advocacy groups insisted that DADT repeal isn’t dead in the lame duck session despite the setback. A short time after the vote, senators who support DADT repeal said they plan to introduce a stand-alone measure to end the 17-year-old ban on open service.

The Senate voted 57-40 on a motion to proceed with the Defense bill, falling three votes short of the necessary 60, after negotiations apparently broke down between Majority Leader Harry Reid and key Republicans. Reid and other pro-repeal Democrats needed 60 votes to end a filibuster, but they were unable to reach a deal with Republicans concerning the rules for debate and amendments.

Reid blamed Republican opponents of repeal for stalling on the Defense bill in an effort to “run out the clock” on DADT repeal. He said every time he met their demands, they came back with something different.

“They want to block a vote on this issue [DADT repeal] at all costs even if it means we do not pass a Defense Authorization bill for the first time in 48 years, and even if it means our troops don’t get the funding and the protections they need,” Reid said. “In my effort to get this done, I don’t know how I could have been more reasonable. … It’s our troops that will pay the price for our inability to overcome partisan political posturing.”

Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who supports a repeal of DADT but had said she would only vote to move forward on the Defense bill after the Senate addresses tax cuts, pleaded with Reid not to call for a cloture vote on the Defense bill Thursday.

“I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become a victim of politics,” Collins said during an exchange with Reid on the floor prior to the vote. “We should be able to do better, and Sen. [Joe] Lieberman and I have been bargaining in good faith with the majority leader. … I just want to say that I’m perplexed as to what has happened and why we’re not going forward in a constructive way that would lead to success.”

Despite her statement, Collins was the lone Republican to favor of Reid’s motion, but only after it was clear it didn’t have enough votes to pass. Other Republicans who’ve said they support DADT repeal, Scott Brown of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, voted against Reid’s motion for cloture on the bill.

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison also voted against the motion, but Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, was absent for the vote. Cornyn has said he opposes DADT repeal.

Shortly after the vote, Collins and Lieberman announced they plan to introduce a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT, but prospects for the bill are unclear given that even if it passes the Senate, it will have to go to the House for approval, and time is running short.

“We support Sen. Lieberman’s plan to move a stand-alone bill,” said Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading repeal advocacy group. “We also believe another viable option is the Continuing Resolution (CR) coming over from the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate and the president must remain in session and in Washington to find another path for repeal to get done in the lame-duck.”

President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he was “extremely disappointed” in the Senate 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,” Obama said. “This annual bill has been enacted each of the past 48 years, and our armed forces deserve nothing less this year.

“A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” the president said. “As Commander in Chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly gay or lesbian. A great majority of the American people agree. This law weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity and equality.

“I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill,” Obama added. “While today’s vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts. I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session.”

Earlier, after the vote, the Human Rights Campaign called on Obama to immediately halt discharges under DADT and stop defending the policy in court.

“The Senate’s apparent refusal to act on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal makes presidential action imperative in order for him to fulfill his state of the union promise,” HRC President Joe Solmonese said. “The only measure of success is an end to the discharges and anything less is unacceptable.

“In this time of war, we cannot sustain a policy that has already deprived our military of thousands of service members, many with critical skills in fighting terrorism,” said Solmonese. “Every day that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in force, Americans are losing out on the best and brightest service members defending our country. If Congress won’t act, it’s up to the President to clean up the mess they made when they enacted this discriminatory and unconstitutional law nearly two decades ago.”

ROLL CALL ON MOTION TO PROCEED WITH DEFENSE SPENDING BILL:

YEAs —57

Akaka (D-HI)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Coons (D-DE)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Specter (D-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)

NAYs —40

Alexander (R-TN)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bond (R-MO)
Brown (R-MA)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kirk (R-IL)
Kyl (R-AZ)
LeMieux (R-FL)
Lugar (R-IN)
Manchin (D-WV)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Snowe (R-ME)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Wicker (R-MS)

Not Voting – 3

Brownback (R-KS)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Lincoln (D-AR)

—  John Wright

UPDATED: DADT vote could come Thursday

UPDATE: We’ve posted a full story on today’s vote here.

The Defense Authorization Act containing a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” is one of three bills scheduled for a cloture vote in the Senate beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern time, or 10 a.m. Dallas time, on Thursday, according to a Senate calendar released Wednesday night. The first of the three bills scheduled for a cloture vote is the DREAM Act, which passed the House on Wednesday but is not believed to have enough votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. As for the Defense bill with DADT repeal attached, all eyes will be on Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, whose misgivings prompted Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a planned vote Wednesday evening. Read Collins’ statement from last night here. Below are the Senate orders for today via AmericaBlog:

∙The Senate will convene at 9:30am and proceed to consideration of the motion to proceed to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2010 (S.3992), with ten minutes reserved for Senator Durbin, and the remaining time until 11:00am equally divided and controlled between the two Leaders, or their designees.

∙At 11:00am, the Senate will proceed to a series of up to three roll call votes on the following:

o The motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act of 2010 (S.3992).

o The motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (H.R.847).

o Reconsideration of the motion to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011 (S.3454).

UPDATE: As of 11:15 a.m. Dallas time, the Defense bill was on hold indefinitely as negotiations between Reid and Collins continued. However, the tax bill was expected to arrive on the Senate floor within an hour or so. The tax bill could delay consideration of the Defense bill, but it would also address one of Collins’ main concerns — that the tax bill be dealt with first.

—  John Wright

Statement from Sen. Collins on DADT repeal

Sen. Susan Collins

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, released the below statement Wednesday night on the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a vote earlier in the day on the Defense spending bill containing DADT repeal after Collins said she wasn’t ready to move forward. Collins represents the key Republican vote needed to overcome a filibuster of the Defense bill.

“Senator Joe Lieberman and I continue to negotiate in good faith with the Majority Leader to try and come up with a fair process under which the important Defense Authorization bill could be considered in the limited time remaining in this session. Without a fair process, the motion to proceed to the bill would likely fail in the U.S. Senate.

“Senator Lieberman and I requested a meeting with Senator Harry Reid last week during which we outlined a specific plan for allowing debate and amendments similar to how the Senate has considered the authorization bill in the past.

“It wasn’t until 1:35 pm today that I received a legitimate offer from Senator Reid, which I consider a good starting point. We made a counter offer which would provide sufficient time for debate, and includes protections to help ensure that Republicans would be able to offer a limited but fair number of amendments that are relevant to this legislation.

“I am encouraged that the Majority Leader decided to postpone the vote he had scheduled for tonight. I urged him to do this so that we could consider the tax legislation first, which I believe could be on the floor as early as tomorrow and completed quickly. At that point, I believe we could move immediately to the Defense Authorization bill under a fair agreement, and I would vote to do so. I would hope he carefully considers our proposal. I believe we have outlined a very clear path forward for the Majority Leader to take that would allow this very important debate to occur.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: No Senate vote on DADT tonight

The Senate will not vote tonight on the Defense spending bill that includes a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.” Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed the previously scheduled vote after Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she’s not ready to proceed on the bill. Collins is one of the key Republican votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Talking Points Memo reports:

Late this evening, per Collins’ request, Reid delayed a test vote he’d planned to hold tonight.

“Everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first,” Collins said.

Collins reminded Reid that Republicans don’t want to debate anything until the tax issue is resolved. “I have urged the majority leader to postpone the vote…so that we could get the tax bill considered first — which I believe could be on the floor tomorrow — and completed by Saturday, and then move immediately to the DOD bill, but under a fair agreement.”

Though Reid has backpedaled somewhat, he still plans to hold a vote later this week. Collins warns that any test vote before the tax cut issue is resolved will fail, even if he agrees to her terms.

“If we’re in the same situation that we are now, I don’t see how I could vote for it. But I’m obviously going to think further. But frankly they won’t get to 60 votes even if I did vote for it. So why not take the path that would lead to 60 votes”

The Washington Blade reports that the vote could come at any time on Thursday:

Jim Manley, a Reid spokesperson, said the decision to hold off on the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill was made to allow for further discussions on the legislation.

“There’s a sense that we’re getting closer to working out an agreement,” Manley said. “Instead of having a vote tonight, we’ve temporarily postponed it until tomorrow as we try and see if we can reach an agreement.”

Pro-repeal groups are continuing to ask people to contact Senators and urge them to support repeal. To take action, go here.

—  John Wright

BREAKING: Senate may vote on DADT today

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning that he’s likely to bring the Defense Authorization bill containing a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” back to the Senate floor sometime later today, according to the above video posted by Wonk Room. It remains unclear, however, whether there are enough votes to break a Republican-led filibuster. And even if the 60 votes are there to proceed to debate on the bill, that doesn’t guarantee its passage. Roll Call reports:

But even if he does have the votes, Reid could be forced to drop the issue altogether once his Caucus comes to terms with the tax cut deal. With less than two weeks until the Senate is expected to adjourn, Republican opponents could drag out the DADT debate for days, eating up time needed to pass the tax cuts and continuing resolution before Christmas.

From Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

“We expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will try again today to take up the defense bill that includes repeal. Reid is actively reaching out to his Republican colleagues to reach an agreement on how to proceed. We also know from Hill sources the President is actively working today’s vote with key Republican senators. Today the Senate has an opportunity to make the nation’s defense funding and our service members a higher priority than tax cuts for millionaires.”

UPDATE: Equality Texas has sent out an Action Alert asking people to call Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and urge her to vote for DADT repeal. The number is 202-224-5922.

—  John Wright

As Senate begins DADT hearings, Guy-Gainer accuses Republicans of ‘juvenile mutiny’

Dave Guy-Gainer

Senate Republicans are committing “a form of juvenile mutiny” by indicating they’ll block consideration of “don’t ask don’t tell” during the lame duck session, according to a leading local advocate for repealing the policy.

All 42 Republican senators signed a letter delivered to Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday pledging to block any legislation that’s unrelated to government funding or taxes this month.

The Senate Armed Services Committee began hearings at 8 a.m. Dallas time today (you can watch live here) on the Pentagon’s report on DADT, which was released Tuesday and concluded that there’s “low risk” to ending the ban. But regardless of the Pentagon report and the committee hearings, some believe Wednesday’s letter to Reid  seriously threatens DADT repeal this year.

Dave Guy-Gainer, an openly gay retired Air Force chief master sergeant who lives in Tarrant County, said there were “no surprises” as he watched Tuesday’s press conference during which the Pentagon report was released.

“In fact, as I listened to each of the four speakers, I heard the same words and sentences that proponents of Repeal have said for many many years,” said Guy-Gainer, a board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “The impact of repeal is minimal. And the concerns that some have can be overcome by education and leadership. It was refreshing to hear Secretary Gates call upon the Senate to enact repeal by the end of December. I understand that he has instructed the services to continue to draft the changes to their many regulations and policies and to draft the lesson plans that will be used to educate the force so that they will be ready when repeal happens. Or, they will be ready when the judiciary calls an end to DADT.”

Guy-Gainer added that he believes the findings of the report, along with polls showing a vast majority of Americans support DADT repeal, should serve as a mandate for the Senate to act.

“In military terms, I personally find their [the Senate Republcans'] letter to be a form of juvenile mutiny,” Gainer said.”These Senators were sent to Washington by people called constituents as a part of a whole. In law a constituent is one who appoints another to act on their behalf. About 80 percent of Americans support repeal and that 80 percent is certainly not made up solely of members of other parties. These Senators are there to vote the will of the people and not there to support the selfishness of partisan politics.

“If there is a threat to our national security, it is the withholding of the military funds that would be provided by the National Defense Authorization Act,” Gainer said, referring to the bill to which DADT repeal is attached. “By one measure, 92 percent of our military is fine working alongside gay and lesbian counterparts. But, none of them can function without biscuits, beans and bullets. After months of delay, it is time for a vote to be taken.

“Hopefully, those who read this article will find a way to inspire these 42 to use the power that was handed them at the ballot box to vote according to the wishes of the nation, the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the men and women of our nation’s military. Failing passage this month leaves the issue in the hands of the judiciary — and those cases will proceed.”

—  John Wright

BREAKING: GOP pledge may doom DADT repeal

CBS News reports that Senate Republicans intend to block all legislation that isn’t related to tax cuts and government spending during the lame duck session. GOP leaders are quietly collecting signatures pledging to carry out the strategy:

If carried out, it would doom Democratic-backed attempts to end the Pentagon’s practice of discharging openly gay members of the military service and give legal status to young illegal immigrants who join the military or attend college.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made both measures a priority as Democrats attempt to enact legislation long sought by groups that supported them in the recent midterm elections.

—  John Wright