This afternoon, as momentum began to build for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) threatened that if Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brings up a vote to repeal the ban, Republicans would not support ratification of the New START treaty. Referring to DADT a “partisan” and “political” issue, Corker accused Reid of poisoning the well with Democratic “campaign promises” to “accommodate activist groups”:
CORKER: What’s happened is it’s poisoning the well on this debate, on something that’s very, very important….I’m just hoping that saner minds will prevail and that these issues that have been brought forth that are absolutely partisan, political, issues, brought forth to basically accommodate activist groups around this country. I’m hoping that those will be taken down or else I don’t think the future of the START treaty over the next several days is going to be successful, based on what I’m watching.
Other Republican Senators — including McCain and Graham — have privately hinted that they would oppose ratifying the treaty if the Senate voted on DADT, but Corker is the first lawmaker to publicly threaten to walk away from the measure. Last night, Reid filed cloture on DADT and DREAM and promised to hold cloture votes on both measures on Saturday, before returning to the START treaty. Reid has also promised that he would accommodate six or seven days of debate on the measure.
Corker’s description of DADT as “partisan” is surprising in light of the increasing Republican support for the measure. Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Olympia Snowe (ME), Scott Brown (MA) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) have pledged to vote for the stand-alone repeal bill. The measure is also supported by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the overwhelming majority of the American people. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier this week found that 77% of Americans support ending DADT, the highest level of support since the poll began asking the question.
Earlier today, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs sounded optimistic about repeal, but “tried to temper his enthusiasm during an off-camera press gaggle with reporters.” “I think it’s clear that there are enough votes to withstand a filibuster on repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’” Gibbs said, adding he would “not necessarily use the term ‘in the bag.’” The administration considers START a top priority. (H/T: @OKnox)
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) appeared to distance themselves from Corker’s suggestion that passage for the treaty would hinge on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal. Both insisted that the treaty must stand or fall on its own merits. Watch it:
Meanwhile, Greg Sargent has Corker doubling down. “That being thrown into the middle of this debate is causing many Republicans to want to see START pushed back and candidly is causing them to oppose it,” Corker said in an interview. “This is hardening them against passage of this treaty.”
,Corker clarifies to Sargent: “I just want to make sure it’s clear they’re not going to oppose the treaty permanently,” he said. “But it’s hardening them against doing it right now.”