GOP stops at­tempt to over­turn ‘don’t ask’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY SEAN LENGELL

Repub­li­cans ef­fec­tively ended the Democrats’ last chance to over­turn the mil­i­tary’s ban on ho­mo­sex­ual troops Dec. 9 in a pro­ce­dural vote that likely puts the is­sue be­yond Congress’ reach for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

The 57-40 tally left Democrats three votes shy of the 60 needed to over­come a fil­i­buster and be­gin de­bate on the de­fense pol­icy bill. In­stead, the Se­nate won’t pass a de­fense bill for the first time in decades — which Democrats said jeop­ar­dizes troops’ pay raises, as well as leav­ing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” pol­icy in place.

Democrats were rac­ing to act be­fore the end of the year, when the GOP — which is gen­er­ally op­posed to over­turn­ing the pol­icy — takes con­trol of the House and ends the chances for ac­tion.

The vote was along party lines ex­cept for two switch­ers — mod­er­ate Sen. Su­san Collins, Maine Repub­li­can, who sup­ported the mea­sure, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Vir­ginia Demo­crat, who voted no.

Pres­i­dent Obama said he was “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” with the Se­nate’s ac­tion and urged sen­a­tors to re­visit the is­sue be­fore its late year “lame duck” ses­sion ends.

“As com­man­der in chief, I have pledged to re­peal this dis­crim­ina- tory law, “ the pres­i­dent said. “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.

Sen­a­tors push­ing to change the law say there is a chance to try again in the re­main­ing days of the lame-duck ses­sion by in­tro­duc­ing a stand-alone bill.

“I am 100 per­cent sup­port­ive of the stand-alone bill,” said Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat.

But with the year wind­ing down and with the Se­nate still fac­ing sev­eral other key votes, in­clud­ing the pro­posed ex­ten­sion of Bush-era tax cuts, such an sce­nario ap­pears a long shot. An- other shot at re­peal could be achieved only if Congress stays in ses­sion be­yond its self-im­posed Dec. 17 ad­journ­ment.

More likely is that the fight moves to the courts, where a fed­eral judge has al­ready struck down the pol­icy, though his rul­ing has been stayed while the mat­ter is un­der ap­peal.

“This is­sue is one that we are go­ing to have to deal with sooner or later,” Ms. Collins said. “The courts are rul­ing in a way that ap­pears ev­i­dent that this is­sue [. . . ] is even­tu­ally go­ing to get to the Supreme Court.”

Ho­mo­sex­ual-rights ad­vo­cates said they are con­tin­u­ing to press for ac­tion this year, but they also said they will pres­sure Mr. Obama to use ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers to stop the dis­missal of ho­mo­sex­ual troops.

“Since it ap­pears Congress won’t re­peal the law this year, the fate of les­bian and gay ser­vice mem­bers now rests in Pres­i­dent Obama’s hands,” Hu­man Rights Cam­paign Pres­i­dent Joe Sol­monese said in a let­ter to sup­port­ers on Dec. 9.

“To make good on his com­mit­ment to end ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 2010, Pres­i­dent Obama needs to im­me­di­ately is­sue a stop-loss or­der halt­ing mil­i­tary dis­charges. At the same time, the ad­min­is­tra­tion must im­me­di­ately cease de­fend­ing DADT in fed­eral court.”

Mr. Levin de­fended the tim­ing of the vote, say­ing that Repub­li­cans had months to work with Democrats on a deal and that Mr. Reid was forced to act now be­cause the 2010 leg­is­la­tion cal­en­dar was wind­ing down.

“There sim­ply was no time to com­plete a bill in­clud­ing re­peal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ if we didn’t start work now,” Mr. Levin said.

Ms. Collins, the lone Repub­li­can to vote against the fil­i­buster, was in­censed at Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid for “pre­ma­turely” call­ing the vote be­fore a deal on GOP amend­ments could be worked out.

“I am ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed that the Se­nate ma­jor­ity leader walked away from ne­go­ti­a­tions in which we were en­gaged and which were go­ing well,” she told re­porters min­utes af­ter the vote. “I’m per­plexed and frus­trated.”

Even as sen­a­tors were vot­ing, she, Mr. Levin and Sen. Joe Lieber­man, a Con­necti­cut in­de­pen­dent who has been work­ing to win Ms. Collins’ sup­port, hud­dled at a desk on the Se­nate floor, try­ing to come up with a strat­egy to go for­ward.

She ended up vot­ing with Democrats, and then turned her at­ten­tion to try­ing to per­suade fel­low Repub­li­can Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to join her. Mrs. Murkowski re­mained a no vote, though Mr. Lieber­man said she could be a pos­si­ble tar­get if they in­tro­duce a stand-alone bill, along with Sen. Scott Brown, Mas­sachusetts Repub­li­can, and Sen. Richard G. Lu­gar, In­di­ana Repub­li­can.

A Pen­tagon sur­vey of mil­i­tary per­son­nel re­leased this month showed that most troops wouldn’t mind serv­ing along­side ho­mo­sex­u­als. The study found that 70 per­cent of troops sur­veyed be­lieved that re­peal­ing the law would have mixed, pos­i­tive or no ef­fect, while 30 per­cent pre­dicted neg­a­tive con­se­quences.

The sur­vey showed op­po­si­tion strong­est among com­bat troops, with at least 40 per­cent say­ing it was a bad idea. That num­ber climbs to 58 per­cent among Marines serv­ing in com­bat roles.

Stephen Dinan con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle, which is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sen. Joe Lieber­man and Sen. Su­san Collins ap­pear at a news conference af­ter the de­feat of a clo­ture mo­tion of the De­fense Autho­riza­tion Bill con­tain­ing re­peal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” pro­vi­sion on Capi­tol Hill.

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