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"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Repeal Hits a Wall in the Senate

September 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

As expected, the motion in the Senate to begin debate of the 2011 Defense bill, which contains a provision repealing “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and would be the vehicle for a possible DREAM Act amendment, was rejected this afternoon, 56-43. Sixty votes were needed to approve the motion.

Arkansas’ two senators, Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, joined every Republican in voting it down. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] technically voted “no” as well, but only in order to preserve his right under Senate rules to bring the motion to a vote again at some point in the future.

With this session of Congress winding down quickly and with the Democrats expected to lose dozens of seats in the House and a handful in the Senate, today’s vote represented the best chance for DADT-repeal advocates and DREAM Act supporters to see their legislation enacted any time soon. It is likely that the Defense bill, and the DADT repeal, will be brought up again in the post-midterm lame-duck session. But lame-duck sessions are traditionally unpredictable and with the enormous amount of legislation started but still pending in both chambers, and the possible coming sea change in the congressional demographic, what happens in this upcoming lame-duck session seems especially up in the air.

David Dayen relays some important — if only symbolic — wrangling that happened on the Senate floor before the vote:

the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for unanimous consent to move to the bill as long as Republicans had the unlimited ability to offer amendments, with the first 20 based on what he considers “germane” amendments, and with none of the amendments “relating to immigration.” That last part was clearly a swipe at the DREAM Act, which does have a military component, as it allows a path to citizenship for undocumented students if they either complete higher education or enlist in military service. The Defense Department specifically includes the DREAM Act as an important component of meeting the goals of an all-volunteer force.

Majority Leader Harry Reid rejected the request, saying that it would “change how we’ve done legislation for a long time,” and he moved to the cloture vote. Despite multiple Republicans supporting the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and others supporting the DREAM Act, all of them opposed to even consider the defense authorization bill, voting against cloture. While advocates tried to pressure Senators like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Scott Brown, “they ran and they hid behind this procedural decision,” according to Sen. Dick Durbin in a speech after the vote.

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