BREAKING NEWS: Senate Republicans halt repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ with filibuster, 56-43 vote

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

A proposal to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell” came to a screeching halt Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans mustered enough votes to filibuster a Defense spending bill that includes the measure.

The Senate voted by a margin of 56-43 to move forward with debate on the Defense spending bill, but 60 votes were needed to overcome the Republican filibuster.

Both of Texas’ senators, Republicans John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, joined their party’s filibuster of the Defense spending bill.

Tuesday’s vote cast doubt on the possibility of repealing DADT anytime soon, with Republicans expected to pick up seats in mid-term elections. However, the Defense spending bill containing DADT repeal is expected to come up again in the lame duck session after the elections.

“I’m disappointed by the vote today, but make no mistake: this is a cause whose time has come,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut who strongly supports repealing the military’s 17-year-old ban on open service. “I remain confident that we will repeal this policy that is unjust and discriminatory and counter both to our national values and our national security. We didn’t win today, but we can win this fight this year.”

The Pentagon is due to issue a report on the impact of DADT repeal Dec. 1, and some senators have said they won’t vote for DADT repeal until the report is complete. Still, advocates for DADT repeal indicated that they believe chances for the bill’s passage in the lame duck session may be slim.

President Barack Obama has said he wants to repeal DADT and vowed to do it this year. Also supporting repeal of the policy are Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Defense spending bill, including the DADT repeal provision, passed both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee this spring. And even if the DADT repeal measure passes the Senate, it wouldn’t take effect until after Obama, Gates and Mullen certify that it won’t hurt troop morale and military readiness.

Servicemembers United, the nation’s largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans, issued a statement following Tuesday’s vote saying that the 60 votes needed to break the Republican filibuster in the Senate had previously been lined up. However, “last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to use an uncommon procedural privilege on the bill that eroded support for breaking the filibuster and guaranteed the vote’s failure,” the group said.

“Intense lobbying and public pressure over the past week proved not to be enough to force either side to back down,” Servicemembers United said.

In addition to DADT repeal, Reid had pledged to amend the Defense spending bill with the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for certain immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as minors. Reid also wanted to limit the number of amendments that could be offered by Republicans, who in turn accused him of playing politics with the bill and trying to mobilize Latino and LGBT voters in advance of the elections.

Two Democrats, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, joined the Republican filibuster. Reid ultimately voted against moving forward with the bill, but his vote was a procedural move that will allow him to bring it back up for a re-vote, presumably during the lame duck session.

“Senator Reid failed to reach a compromise with Republicans and our military servicemembers will need to wait until the November elections are over for the U.S. Senate to vote on a repeal,” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “This partisan arrogance is an example of why voters will be turning away from Democrats on Nov. 2.”

Michael Mitchell, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats, countered that the blame for Tuesday’s filibuster lies with the Senate Republicans who led it — and especially Arizona’s John McCain.

“Shame on the Republicans for not even allowing the repeal of DADT to be brought to the Senate floor for debate,” Mitchell said. “Senate Republicans have tragically blocked the National Defense Authorization Act because it contains language to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ showing themselves to be far outside of the American mainstream. Their actions today are just more obstructionism and willful disregard of what eight in 10 Americans want. It is a sad the lengths the GOP will go to in order to discriminate against soldiers who want to serve our country openly, honorably and with integrity. It is nothing short of a slap in the face to their service in their fight for our freedoms.

“Today, one man’s bigotry and opinions proved how out of touch the GOP is with the majority of Americans. Today Sen. John McCain held back progress and history. Sen. McCain along with the rest of the Republican party is consistently out of touch with the values that Americans hold true to in 2010,” Mitchell said. “Our commitment to repeal DADT is as strong as it was before the vote. Our commitment continues as we work and campaign to elect courageous democrats who will keep working for our full equality is even stronger. It is imperative that we keep this vote in mind when we go to the polls on Election Day and remember which party stands in the way of our path to equality.”

GetEQUAL, the national LGBT direct action group, launched a petition calling on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order halting discharges under DADT until it can be repealed legislatively. The petition is here.

“Despite this abysmal failure of Congress, there is something President Obama can do immediately to protect our gay and lesbian soliders — even if full repeal is dead in the water for now,” GetEQUAL said. “We are calling on the President to issue an Executive Order RIGHT NOW to unequivocally state that military discharges must end, immediately,” GetEQUAL said. “On top of that, and if he won’t take action, we need you to take this one step further. We need volunteers to help us hold the President accountable and meet him head-on during this election season, asking him at each campaign stop and at each fundraising party, “WHEN WILL THE DISCHARGES END?” When you sign the petition, let us know if you’re willing, if President Obama comes to your town, to take action as a first responder.”

Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called Tuesday’s vote a “frustrating blow to repeal of this horrible law.”

“We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections,” Sarvis said. “Let’s be clear: Opponents to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay. Time is the enemy here. We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we’ll have a slim shot. The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will continue to take this fight to the American people, the vast majority of whom support repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Rea Carey, executive director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, accused the Senate of “playing politics with people’s lives.”

“Filibustering the defense authorization bill to block action on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal and the DREAM Act — two measures that do justice to the fundamental principle of fairness — is a disappointment and disservice to our country,” Carey said. “Seventy-eight percent of Americans support ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and countless others believe that young people should be provided a path to citizenship in the country they love and have always called home. Today’s Senate vote mocks those ideals. The senators who led and supported the filibuster effort should be ashamed.”

Alexander Nicholson, founder and executive director, Servicemembers United, called the vote “inexcusable.”

“Today’s vote is a failure of leadership on the part of those who have been duly elected to serve this nation and to put the best interests of the country ahead of partisan politics. The Senate could learn a good lesson from those who serve in uniform and who stand to benefit from proceeding to debate on this bill — serving this country means putting politics aside and getting the job done. It is simply inexcusable that this vote failed today.”

—  John Wright

Reid sets DADT vote

Unless measure passes before November elections, Republican gains could mean an end to repeal possibilities for the time being

Lisa Keen  |  Keen News Service lisakeen@me.com

Pop star Lady Gaga attended the VMAs on Sunday night
MAKING A POINT | Pop star Lady Gaga attended the VMAs on Sunday night, Sept. 12, with three former servicemembers who were discharged under DADT and a former West Point cadet who resigned from the academy to protest the anti-gay policy. (Matt Sayles/Associated Press)

A Senate Democratic leadership aide said Monday, Sept. 13, that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would bring the defense spending bill with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal measure to the floor next week.

Reid himself confirmed the decision in a post on Twitter, in response to a call by pop star Lady Gaga following MTV’s Video Music Awards on Sunday night, Sept. 12.

Gaga attended the awards show with three LGBT former servicemembers who were discharged under DADT and a former West Point cadet who left the academy in protest over the policy.

The four were U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. David Hall, former U.S. Air Force Major Mike Almy, former U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Stacy Vasquez and former West Point cadet Katie Miller, all members of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

The pop star then spoke about the importance of repealing DADT during an interview with Ellen DeGeneres after the VMAs.

The following day, Gaga sent a Tweet to all her followers urging them to contact Reid and urge him to schedule a Senate vote on repeal. Reid responded with a Tweet saying the vote had been scheduled for this coming week.

The decision — if it sticks — is an important step forward for activists hoping to repeal the federal law that bans openly gay servicemembers from the military.

Many political observers are predicting that Republicans could take over the majority in the Senate and/or House at the mid-term elections. Such a development would almost certainly kill any chance of repeal for DADT during President Barack Obama’s first term.

The DADT repeal language was attached to the annual bill that authorizes Department of Defense spending. The language calls for repeal of the military’s ban on gay servicemembers to begin after the Secretary of Defense receives an “implementation report” he has asked for, due Dec. 1, and after the president, defense secretary and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have signed a statement certifying that they have considered whatever recommendations are made in the report, prepared the necessary regulations to accompany repeal, and certified that repeal is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”

Fiscal year 2011 begins Oct. 1. With the congressional clock ticking down the last days of fiscal year 2010, the pressure is on to finish off remaining budget bills authorizing spending and appropriating FY 2011 monies.

If Congress fails to settle its budget bills by the end of FY 2010, it has the option of passing “continuing resolutions” — bills that simply set the next year’s fiscal budget at the same levels as the current year.

According to the New York Times, the Senate typically spends about two weeks on the defense spending bill. Last year’s defense authorization bill was passed by the Senate in July, but it took lawmakers more than two months to resolve differences between the Senate and House versions.

So, there is no certainty that DADT will, in fact, come up during the first week or that it will even get a vote before FY 2010 runs out.

Meanwhile, when the defense authorization bill does come to the floor and the Senate begins debate on the language seeking to repeal DADT, the debate is expected to be vigorous, at least from opponents.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and other Republicans have made clear they are steadfastly against repeal. The question is whether Democrats believe support for repeal could lose them votes during the mid-term elections, and potentially control of Congress.

© 2010 Keen News Service

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Reid: Senate will take up DADT repeal next week

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday, Sept. 13, that he plans to bring to the floor next week the 2011 defense spending bill that includes an amendment to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.” But it remains unclear whether there are enough votes to break a possible Republican filibuster of the bill or stave off unfriendly amendments.

Reid’s plan, first reported by The Washington Blade, represents a major breakthrough for repeal advocates, who fear that if the Senate doesn’t take up DADT repeal next week, it may not happen for several years.

Anti-repeal Republicans are widely expected to pick up seats in mid-term elections, and some senators have indicated they would consider only a temporary defense spending bill during the lame-duck session at the end of this year.

“We are both pleased and relieved that Sen. Reid has decided to schedule the defense authorization bill for floor time next week,” said Alexander Nicholson, founder and executive director of Servicemembers United. “We are fairly confident that we will have the 60 votes to break a filibuster of this bill. It would be shameful for lawmakers to vote to hold up an important and expansive piece of legislation like the defense authorization bill simply because of their opposition to one or two provisions within it.”

Servicemembers United and other groups advocating for DADT repeal had launched a major push in recent weeks, pleading with people to call their senators and urge them to take up the bill. Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of a federal judge’s landmark decision last week declaring the military’s ban on open service unconstitutional, as well as some high-profile DADT repeal advocacy from the likes of Lady Gaga.

“We applaud the Senate Majority Leader’s courage and his statement to bring the defense bill to the floor. Now, we must deliver,” said Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. “Repeal proponents may well need 60 votes in the Senate to get to this important debate in September.  We are now in the final stretch and we must prevail. Repeal supporters should not stop calling their senators. Sen. John McCain has been a strong and vocal opponent from the start and it is critical that we beat back any filibuster threat, defeat attempts to strike repeal, and defeat any crippling amendments.”

The House passed the defense authorization bill, including Rep. Patrick Murphy’s DADT repeal amendment, in May. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the policy wouldn’t be repealed right away. After the Pentagon completes a study of the impacts of repeal, due Dec. 1, the president, the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff must certify that repeal won’t hurt military readiness.


—  John Wright

If Senate doesn’t vote on DADT repeal in September, it may not happen for several years

Both the Human Rights Campaign and the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network issued action alerts Thursday warning that if the Senate doesn’t take up the National Defense Authorization Act soon, the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” will be in serious danger.

“If the defense budget bill doesn’t move to the Senate floor by the end of this month, DADT repeal may not happen for several more years,” SLDN Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis said.

HRC on Thursday announced a National Call-In Day for DADT Repeal on Friday:

“While many believe repeal of this odious law is a foregone conclusion, the real truth is that this is not yet a done deal,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “If the more than 75 percent of fair-minded Americans who recognize this as a failed law do not speak up, a small group of Senators with their own narrow political agendas could win out.”

Congress returns Monday from their August recess and will have only several weeks of work before breaking again for the upcoming November elections.  Senate leaders have indicated that the defense bill — to which “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal is attached — is on a list of possible bills on which they may vote.

“We’ve had to fight to the end for every victory we’ve won, and this is no different,” added Solmonese. “If we don’t speak up now, our window for repeal could close.”

HRC will launch a full national action alert tomorrow encouraging members and supporters to contact their Senators immediately and ask that they push for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the next four weeks.

Here in Texas, we know that calling our senators is futile. As an alternative, SLDN suggests for everyone to call these key senators:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV)
(202) 224-3542

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
(202) 224-2541

Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
(202) 224-2235

—  John Wright