U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has confirmed that he will schedule votes on the repeal of the military ban on openly gay service personnel, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), and the DREAM Act during the Senate’s lame duck session of Congress.
However, while the DADT legislative repeal will be brought to the floor as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the DREAM Act will this time be brought as a separate piece of legislation.
Top aides to both Reid and President Barack Obama told gay-rights activists Wednesday that the two Democratic leaders are “committed” to bringing the defense authorization bill, which includes language repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, to the floor after next week’s Thanksgiving recess.
“Our Defense Department supports repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as a way to build our all-volunteer armed forces,” Reid said in a statement Wednesday night. “We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so.”
In a separate statement, Reid pledged to bring the DREAM Act to the floor as a stand-alone bill. The legislation provides a path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who complete two years of college or military service.
Led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate Republicans blocked both pieces of legislation when Reid and other Democrats tried to attach them to the defense authorization bill in late September. And GOP leaders don’t appear to have warmed to the proposals since the Nov. 2 election.
During September’s vote one issue was that Sen. Reid stonewalled Republican amendments to the defense bill when he refused to allow a debate.
This time, Reid has been urged to work with Republican senators and allow for an extended debate period.
A dozen Democrats and Senator Joseph Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said Reid should allow an extended debate on a wide-ranging defense policy bill, which includes a provision that would repeal the 1993 law known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.’’
The Senate’s desire to adjourn before the holidays was no reason to curtail debate and give Republicans an excuse to block the bill, Lieberman said.
“If that’s all that separates our military from getting all that they deserve in the defense authorization bill, including the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ shame on us,’’ he said. “I’m confident we can and will’’ pass the legislation.
Democrats expect to have the votes needed to advance the bill if an extended debate with GOP amendments is allowed. Jim Manley, spokesman for Reid, said yesterday no decision had been made on how much time would be allotted for debate.
This could be particularly useful in courting the moderate Republican vote. Senators like Susan Collins of Maine specifically noted Reid’s unwillingness to allow a debate as a reason to filibuster the last time the defense bill was brought to the floor.
Also, with leaked results of the Pentagon’s repeal implementation survey appearing to show that over 70 per cent of soldiers and their families are fine with repeal, the legitimate reasons for opposing the DADT repeal – such as waiting for the release of the DADT repeal implementation study on Dec. 1 – seem to be diminishing.
As such, should Senator John McCain try to repeat September’s filibuster, which seems likely given that he’s now said that the repeal study was flawed, he may not find such strong support for his opposition this time around.
However, the vote count in the Senate has always been tentative and while repeal advocates seem somewhat optimistic, it would be misleading to say that success is by any means a given.
You can catch up with the latest on the DREAM Act here.