Lugar And Murkowski Will Vote For Cloture On Defense Bill If It’s Considered Under Open Process

This morning, despite Secretary of Defense Robert Gate’s urgent plea for the Senate to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal in the lame duck session, all 42 Republican Senators signed a letter agreeing to block any legislation “from reaching the Senate floor until President Barack Obama and Congress figure out a way to extend a series of expiring Bush-era tax cuts and pass legislation to fund the government into next year.” But a spokesperson for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) — a strong supporter of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — told Greg Sargent that while “the Senate should be focused on taxes and the economy (especially since the tax provisions expire on January 1) and obviously we need to pass a bill funding the government before Friday,” “she believes there is time to consider other issues as well, and she has made it clear that if the Majority Leader brings the Defense Authorization bill to the floor, for example, and allows sufficient debate and amendments, she would vote to proceed to the bill.”

Now, two other potential Republican swing votes — Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — are moving closer to Collins’ position. In phone conversations this afternoon, their spokespeople told me that they too would vote for the motion to proceed on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — the measure that includes DADT repeal — if it’s considered through an open amendment process:

– MURKOWSKI: “Yea, of course, [the NDAA] is a priority but she believes, like her colleagues, that first she wants to see the Senate take care of the budget and of these looming tax increases.” Spokesperson Mike Brumas also stressed that Murkowski would consider the testimony of the Service Chiefs before reaching a decision and that the NDAA would have to be considered under an open amendment process.

– LUGAR: Spokesperson Mark Hayes made it clear that Lugar considered the tax cuts, the continuing resolution and START his top three priorities for the lame duck session, but said that the Senator would vote for cloture under an open amendment process. “If it’s structured debate that is fair to both sides, he would for the motion to proceed.”

Interestingly, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) — the sponsor of repeal in the Senate — is also arguing that extending the Bush tax cuts and approving a continuing resolution should come before NDAA and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. This morning, he urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) — who has promised to bring NDAA to the floor — to allow Senators enough time to debate the measure. “Will we take the time to have the debate, not just on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell but on the underlining Defense Authorization bill,” he said. “And I can tell you that some of the Republicans who want to be for this, also want to make sure that Senator Reid offers them a fair amendment process.”

Moments ago, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama has not contacted swing Senators since the release of the Pentagon’s DADT report, but revealed that Gates has. He also admitted that the administration has “not provided specific calendar guidance” for when the Senate should consider the NDAA, but reiterated that passing the measure was “tremendously” important.