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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Senate Fails to Force Action on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' - NYTimes.com

Senate Fails to Force Action on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' - NYTimes.com


Drew Angerer/The New York Times Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, center, announced shortly after the vote their intention to introduce a new bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, joined them at the podium.
4:31 p.m. | Updated A Republican senator and an independent senator said today that they will jointly introduce a stand-alone bill to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy after a larger defense bill containing the repeal failed to advance in the Senate.

Senate Republicans blocked the attempt to move ahead with the bill that would have repealed the ban on gay troops serving openly in the military. The vote was 57-40, almost entirely along party lines, and three short of the 60 needed.

The vote was a setback to President Obama and the Democratic leadership, who have made repealing the Clinton-era policy a key priority. And it short-circuited the efforts of a handful of Republicans who said they supported a repeal but wanted more time to negotiate the process of debating and voting on the measure.

The lawmaker leading that effort, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, voted in favor of the motion but was not joined by any of her colleagues. Ms. Collins and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent, announced shortly after the vote their intention to introduce a new bill.

“I am convinced that there are 60 or even 61 or 62 votes to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’,” Ms. Collins told reporters. “I’m extremely disappointed that the Senate majority leader walked away from negotiations in which we were engaged and which were going well.”

A spokesman for Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said Mr. Reid will co-sponsor the stand-alone legislation. “We do intend to take a free-standing bill to the floor,” said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Mr. Reid.

But a bill focused solely on repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy faces steep challenges, including the likelihood that supporters of the policy in the Senate could seek to offer numerous amendments during a debate over the legislation.

In a statement, President Obama said he was disappointed that “yet another filibuster” by Republicans had blocked the defense bill and the provisions to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“A minority of Senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Mr. Obama said. “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.”

Mr. Reid had called for the procedural vote on the overall defense bill despite having failed to reach agreement with the Republicans on how to proceed. In a statement after the vote, Ms. Collins said those negotiations were “going well” and she accused Mr. Reid of walking away from the discussions.

Republicans had earlier indicated that without an agreement about the number of amendments and the timing of the debate, they would vote against moving forward to vote on the legislation.

Advocates of repealing the policy criticized the vote, saying the effort to allow gays to serve openly in the military had fallen victim to political squabbles in the Congress. One newly elected Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, also voted against the measure.

“Today leaders of both parties let down the U.S. military and the American people,” said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign. “Instead of doing what is right, ‘the world’s greatest deliberative body’ devolved into shameful schoolyard spats that put petty partisan politics above the needs of our women and men in uniform.”

Mr. Solmonese vowed that “this fight is too important to give up despite this setback and we will continue fighting in this lame duck session. It’s not over.”

A veterans group also expressed anger at the vote, which delays approval of the massive military spending bill to which the repeal was attached. The Congress has not failed to pass a military spending bill for decades.

“By voting to filibuster the Defense Authorization Act, today, a minority of Senators have betrayed our troops,” said Ashwin Madia, interim chairman of VoteVets.org. “Leaving aside ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ this bill is crucial to our military readiness, and funding our troops in harm’s way.”

Prior to the vote, Mr. Reid conceded that that the failure to reach an agreement could doom the effort to repeal the policy, which has been a key priority for President Obama and gay activists.

“Despite the critical importance for our troops, for our nation, and for justice that we get this bill done, we have not been able to reach an agreement,” Mr. Reid said this afternoon. “And I regret to say that it is our troops who will pay the price for our inability to overcome partisan political posturing.”

Mr. Reid’s decision to move forward in an attempt to force a vote caught senators off guard, including Ms. Collins, who had been negotiating with Mr. Reid about the terms of the debate.


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