Responding to reports that Democrats are considering stripping the National Defense Authorization Act of the amendment to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Jim Manley — Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) spokesperson — issued the following statement:
“Like Defense Secretary Gates, Senator Reid strongly supports the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to help strengthen our volunteer force and is continuing to work toward passing the repeal this year. He, of course, can’t do it alone. The Senator needs Republicans to at least agree to have a debate on this issue — a debate he firmly believes the Senate should have.
It’s unfortunate that Senator McCain — who previously expressed support for the repeal of this law — and other senate republicans, are ignoring the advice of our military leaders to reverse this discriminatory policy that not only harms our men and women in uniform, but also our national security.”
Indeed, McCain was for repealing the policy before he was against it and has gone to great lengths to obscure the fact that the the actual repeal amendment doesn’t lift the ban until the Pentagon completes its review of the policy, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen and President Obama all certify that repeal would not undermine unit cohesion and military effectiveness.
The Republicans certainly deserve a good deal of blame for filibustering the National Defense Authorization Act in September and putting concerns about Senate procedure ahead of America’s national security interests. Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-ME) equation of senate rules with the freedom to serve openly in the military, for instance — “I think we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country. But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down debate and preclude Republican amendments. That too is not fair,” she said — is insulting.
But Democrats are also responsible for the latest DADT quagmire. After all, Democrats originally intended to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell over a two-year period, following an agreement with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that would have led to legislative action only after the Pentagon’s Working Group released its report in December. Only after LGBT advocates and their allies pressured the White House to change its overly cautious policy, did Reid move on the legislation. But even then, he choose to bring the act up under controversial rules that allowed for limited amendments. As Alexander Nicholson, of Servicemembers United, said after the September vote failed, “The votes to break the filibuster had previously been lined up, but last week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to use an uncommon procedural privilege on the bill that eroded support for breaking the filibuster and guaranteed the vote’s failure. Intense lobbying and public pressure over the past week proved not to be enough to force either side to back down. The Senate will not likely take up the defense authorization bill again until after the mid-term elections in November.”
Of course, the Democrats can still try to pass repeal in the lame duck session and if they introduce the National Defense Authorization Act in the first part of November, the chances of it passing will increase. They rise even higher if moderate Republicans decide to cooperate in the effort. But Democrats can only control their own behavior and being in the majority, they have the ability to force a vote that would end a deeply unpopular policy. Here’s to hoping they do.