'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Opponents Vow To Fight On
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The attempt to end the ban on gays serving openly in the military stalled yesterday. For the second time this year, the Senate voted to block a bill that calls for repeal of the don't ask, don't tell policy. As NPR's David Welna reports, proponents of a repeal say they'll fight on.
DAVID WELNA: Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin has been trying for months to get the Senate to act on legislation that the repeal of don't ask, don't tell is attached to - the gigantic national defense authorization bill. Normally, it would take weeks to get that bill enacted. But there are only days left in the lame duck session. So Levin went to the Senate chamber yesterday and pleaded with his colleagues to let the bill come up.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): If we don't proceed on this bill this week, then invoking cloture sometime next week, even if we can do it, it would be a symbolic victory. And I don't believe that there would be enough time to hammer out a final bill before the end of the session.
WELNA: But Senate Democrats have a problem. Last week, all 42 Senate Republicans pledged that until Congress acted to keep the Bush-era tax cuts from expiring they would block all other legislation. Nonetheless, Majority Leader Harry Reid announced yesterday he was holding a vote to bring up the defense bill and its repeal of don't ask, don't tell. He said he'd bent over backwards to accommodate Republicans' demands.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): But it's clear that Republicans, led by a few of them, don't want to have a vote on repealing don't ask, don't tell. They're all doing what they can to stand in the way of the bill. They want to block a vote on this issue at all costs, even if it means we do not pass a defense authorization bill for the first time in 48 years.
WELNA: Reid's decision to force a vote dismayed Maine Republican Susan Collins. She's one of the few Republicans who support repealing don't ask, don't tell, and she maintained Reid could count on their votes once Congress extended the expiring tax cuts.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): I think there was such a clear path for us to be able to get this bill done. And I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become a victim of politics. We should be able to do better.
WELNA: Collins was the sole Republican who voted to bring up the defense bill with the repeal provision. The only Democrat who voted to block it was West Virginia's Joe Manchin. That left Democrats three votes short of the 60 needed to move the bill forward. Connecticut independent Joe Lieberman, a leading sponsor of the repeal, did not admit defeat.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): We have suffered a setback. But the reality remains that 60 - and I think maybe more than 60 - members of the United States Senate have made clear that they support the repeal of don't ask, don't tell. And while that is the case - and it is the case - we're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting until the last possible moment in this session.
WELNA: President Obama has backed the repeal of don't ask, don't tell ever since he ran for the White House. He called yesterday's vote disappointing, but added it must not be the end of our efforts. Senator Lieberman is now rolling out a stand-alone bill to repeal don't ask, don't tell. That could require more time, though, than what's left in the lame duck session.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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