The DADT Repeal Repertory Theater
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin.
September 21st, 2010
It’s official. The start of the process of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been put on hold. Both Arkansas Democrats, Blanche L. Lincoln and Mark Pryor, joined all 40 Republicans to sustain the filibuster against the National Defense Appropriations Act. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) switched his vote at the last minute in a procedural maneuver that will allow him to bring the bill back to the Senate floor for a later revote. At this time, that vote will almost certainly not take place until after the November elections during a lame-duck session.
In the days leading up to today’s vote, Reid announced that he would allow a vote on only three amendments to the appropriations bill. One proposed amendment, which would have removed the DADT repeal language from the bill, would almost certainly not have garnered the sixty votes needed pass muster. A second proposed amendment, which would have provided a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who served in the U.S. military or who graduate from college, also likely would have failed due to Republican opposition and discomfort among some Democrats. A third proposed amendment would have placed limits on Senators being able to place holds on nominations.
Those were the only amendments that Reid would allow to come up for a vote, all of which were chosen by Reid for the political advantage they would give the Democrats in tough mid-term election campaigns. His gamble wasn’t really a gamble at all. In fact, his gambit was a win-win for Democrats, at least in how they see their strategy unfolding. If Republicans upheld the filibuster, then Reid could go home and say that it was the Republicans who blocked DADT’s repeal and immigration reform. If the Dems had prevailed on the filibuster, then Reid would have been able to get the Republican caucus on record on these two issues ahead of the November elections. Either way, what Reid actually sought to accomplish was political gamesmanship, not Senatorial statesmanship.
The Republican caucus insisted that they be allowed to bring proposed amendments up for a vote as well, a reasonable demand that in ordinary times would not have raised an eyebrow. But these are not ordinary times. Votes in the Senate aren’t about actually doing anything but positioning for the elections. I don’t know what amendments Republicans wanted votes on, but they were undoubtedly just as politically divisive as Reid’s chosen amendments. But by not even allowing debate on a very limited number of those other amendments, Reid doomed DADT’s repeal until after the election.
The sixty votes needed to break the filibuster had already been lined up, but that was before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to limit debates and votes on amendments. That led to a collapse in support in ending the filibuster. Servicemembers United, which has been campaigning for DADT’s repeal, saw through Reid’s political posturing. SU’s Executive Director Alexander Nicholson criticized Reid’s position yesterday on MSNBC:
“If Senator Reid would just budge a little bit and come to an agreement on a reasonable way to proceed, we could potentially get the votes. But so far, he’s not been willing to do that, unfortunately.”
Following today’s vote, Nicholson said called it “a failure of leadership.” Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis was more circumspect, saying:
Today’s Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law. We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections.
So if Reid had the votes to break the filibuster but squandered them in this procedural maneuver, why did he do this? The answer is simple. This was never a serious attempt to pass legislation in the best interests of the American people. It was nothing but political theater, and everyone on both sides were eager actors in the drama. All the Senators had a role to play, and everyone played to the audience. Even the White House was given a bit part. They issued a statement calling for an end to the filibuster, but according to SLDN’s Trevor Thomas, there was no lobbying behind the scenes.
And now that the vote has been taken, the play moves on to its second act: everyone now gets to go home and use it on the campaign trail. Republicans, even those who support DADT’s repeal, will be able to brag that they stood up to the evil Democratic machine. Democrats will be able to blame the evil Republican machine for blocking legislation that three-fourths of the American population agree on.
What happens in the third act — when the legislation re-appears in a lame-duck session after the elections — is anybody’s guess right now. It’s shaping up to be quite a cliff-hanger, so don’t touch that dial!
And what role do we in the gay community play? It’s the same role we always play. We’re the interesting and colorful plotline. It’s not much of a speaking part, but the dance moves are fabulous. And why should it be otherwise? It’s a role we’ve played so well over the years that it’s just expected of us. And we are happy to oblige. This time, we even have Lady Gaga making a guest appearance.
Which makes all of this really funny when you think about it. For all the talk of unbridgeable differences in today’s political landscape, Reid’s maneuver was a gift to all one hundred Senators of something every one of them wanted: a campaign issue. With today’s drama, everyone wins — Hooray for Reid! — everyone, that is, with the exception of the American people.
Sen. Collins: “I Cannot Vote to Proceed”
September 21st, 2010
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s insistence on refusing to allow votes on amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill is having the feared effect of driving previous Republican supporters of the bill from voting for cloture. This is Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) on the Senate floor:
They deserve to have a civil, fair and open debate on the Senate floor, and that is why I am so disappointed that rather than allowing full and open debate and the opportunity for amendments from both sides of the aisle, the majority leader apparently intends to shut down the debate and exclude Republicans from offering a number of amendments
…Now, Mr. President, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I support the provisions in this bill. I debated for them. I was the sole Republican in the committee that voted for the Lieberman-Levin language on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s only fair, 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 the debate and preclude Republican amendments.”
According to reports, Reid once had her vote, but he lost it when he made the decision to refuse to allow votes on Republican amendments. Others on the fence were George Lemieux (R-FL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME);, Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Jim Webb (D-VA), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Kit Bond (R-MO). It is unclear what effect Collins’ decision will have on the others.
The White House has issued a public statement supporting the Defense Authorization bill, but the Washington Blade quotes Servicemembers Legal Defense Network’s Trevor Thomas: “We have not seen any signs that the White House has been whipping this vote in the last 48 hours.”
DADT repeal included in defense bill today
September 21st, 2010
Today Senator Reid will bring up the 2011 Defense Appropriations Bill for cloture – the process to bring the bill to a vote. Although the bill itself only requires 50 votes, cloture (ending discussion) requires 60 votes.
Unfortunately, there are quite a few stumbling blocks in the bill which may result in Republicans unanimously voting against cloture. As Jim reported, Reid is denying the ability of Republicans to offer amendments to the bill, even those which would likely have broad bipartisan support, while reserving for himself the right to introduce some of his own. Here are a few of the problems with the bill:
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – although this is the highest profile provision, it may not be the most controversial. A few conservative Senators have railed on about this, but I strongly doubt that this alone would have been adequate to hold up the defense bill. However, this will likely be the only provision that gets the blame.
Abortion – the bill would change the rules to allow for abortions to be performed in government hospitals.
Dream Act – this is a provision that would provide citizenship to some immigrants in the country illegally. In addition to it having only tangential relationship to Defense (the listed criteria includes Military service, a provision already available), it is controversial and not broadly supported.
Wasteful Spending – the White House has indicated that it is concerned about provisions of the bill that it sees as pork and has threatened a veto. They are unlikely to be alone in wishing to question some expenditures that may be focused less on defense than on providing federal money to “the folks back home.”
Unless Harry Reid allows Republicans to at least plead their case on these and other issues, there is a high likelihood that moderate Republicans will refuse support.
Is Sen. Reid Sabotaging DADT’s Repeal?
September 21st, 2010
That’s what Servicemembers’s United’s Alexander Nicholson is asking this morning:
Just more than 60 votes had been lined up to break a filibuster on (the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA) and allow the legislation to move forward for debate, amendments and a final vote before the Senate adjourns for yet another month-and-a-half-long recess. That was until Sen. Reid announced he was going to use his status as Senate Majority Leader to block the minority’s customary ability to also offer their amendments to the massive annual defense-spending bill.
This unusual and controversial move by Sen. Reid predictably enraged all Republicans, including the few who were previously prepared to help break the filibuster and allow a repeal-inclusive NDAA to move forward. And who can blame them? This isn’t a very fair move on Sen. Reid’s part, and it wasn’t a very fair move at points in the past when Republicans did it either.
…Observers are already catching on to the fact that Sen. Reid is setting himself up to simply say “I tried” when Republicans vote to filibuster NDAA on Tuesday, but “I tried” will not be good enough anymore. We see through this trick, and we’ll make sure everyone else does, too. If NDAA fails this week because of cheap political stunts, we will ensure it is the Senate leadership that is held accountable, not the unreasonably slighted minority.
DADT repeal vote next week
September 13th, 2010
From the Washington Blade:
A senior Democratic leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Reid met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday to inform the Republican leader that the fiscal year 2011 defense authorization bill will come to the Senate floor the week of Sept. 20.
The aide said Senate leadership is anticipating the Senate won’t have unanimous consent to bring the legislation to the floor, so 60 votes will be necessary to end a filibuster and move forward with debate on the bill.
“We are going to take it the floor next week to see where the votes are,” the aide said.
The repeal of the military’s anti-gay Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy is part of the 2011 defense authorization bill.
Sen. Reid Denounces Mormon Prop 8 Support
October 13th, 2009
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sharply criticized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for its leading role in passing California’s Prop 8. In a meeting with three gay-rights activists in his office, Reid said that the leaders of his faith wasted their resources and should have stayed out of the fight. Sen. Reid is the highest ranking elected official who is an LDS member.
The Tribune continues:
He said that he thought it was a waste of church resources and good will,” said Derek Washington, a Nevadan who worked as the outreach director for the march. “He said he didn’t think it was appropriate.”
…In the meeting, those present touched on issues most important to them. Dan Choi, a veteran of the Iraq War, who was booted from the military under the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, thanked Reid for lobbying President Barack Obama on his behalf. Robin McGehee, of California, talked about her own family. Then, McGehee said, Reid brought up his LDS faith and discussed a recent meeting with Mormons in which he criticized the Prop 8 efforts.
Sen. Reid Supports Overturning DADT
July 14th, 2009
“We’re having trouble getting people into the military,” [Senate Manority Leader Harry] Reid told reporters when questioned about whether he could support an 18-month moratorium on enforcing a prohibition on gays in the armed forces. “And I think that we shouldn’t turn down anybody that’s willing to fight for our country, certainly based on sexual orientation.”
Mr. Reid said he would go the proposal, being considered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, one better and support a permanent repeal of the ban.
Reid: DADT Repeal May Happen “This Congress”
June 16th, 2009
That would be sometime between now and 2010. According to The Advocate, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid clarified his remarks from yesterday:
“We do not have a DADT bill introduced in the Senate yet, but a number of senators are working on a bipartisan approach to get DADT repealed,” Senator Reid said in a statement Tuesday. “We would welcome a legislative proposal from the White House on repeal so as to provide clear guidance on what the president would like to see and when. With presidential leadership and direction, I believe we can find the time to get repeal done in this Congress. We need all the troops we can get right now.”
Reid’s comments are the first intimations from congressional leadership on a time frame for accomplishing repeal, and are in line with those made earlier this year by Rep. Barney Frank.
In this statement, Reid still appears to be waiting for the President to take the lead, while the President has been putting the ball firmly in Congress’ court. But this is better than yesterday’s statement, with Reid suggesting that he was waiting for Obama to issue a Stop Loss order, something that Obama has refused to do.
LGBT Insurrection Against The Democratic Party
June 15th, 2009
[Update: Three more LGBT advocates have declined to attend the DNC fundraiser in Washington next week. See below.]
President Barack Obama has repeatedly said that he won’t make a move to end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the ban on LGBT people serving openly in the military, because ultimately it is up to Congress to change the law. His spokespeople have repeated this in answer to questions about why he hasn’t issued a stop loss order in order to halt the ongoing discharges of qualified gays and lesbians from the armed forces. They have, in effect, thrown the ball completely into the Congress’ court.
Now we have word from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that the reason the repeal of DADT has gone no where in the Senate is because no one has sponsored the legislation in the Senate. What’s more, he threw the hot potato right back into the President’s hands:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaking at a press conference Monday said he has no plans to introduce a bill to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the Senate.
“I haven’t identified any sponsors,” he said. “My hope is that it can be done administratively.”
A Democratic aide later clarified that Reid was speaking about the possibility of using an executive order to suspend discharges or perhaps halting enforcement of the policy by changing departmental regulations within the Department of Defense.
Which, of course, won’t happen because the President is waiting on Congress, which in turn is waiting on the President.
This shouldn’t be that hard. This isn’t 1993, when DADT was signed into law by a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. It is now 2009, when 69% of the American public believes that DADT should be repealed. When’s the last time two-thirds of Americans were united on anything else? What’s more, even 58% of Republicans and 60% of weekly churchgoers thing it’s time for DADT to go.
With public support like this, the age old question — If now now, when? — becomes less of a rallying cry and more of a taunt. Seriously, if not now, when? We don’t need a “fierce advocate” for this one. All we need is for someone to grow a pair — and they don’t have to be very big ones.
But that’s not likely to happen. John Berry, the White House director of the Office of Personnel Management and the highest ranking gay official in the Obama administration, spoke with the Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld about progress on LGBT rights. He predicted that the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes bill would pass the Senate sometime this week. But what about repealing DADT and DOMA, or enacting a fully inclusive Employment Non-Description Act? Well, he says, they want to do it sometime “before the sun sets on this administration.”
This nebulous timetable is meaningless. If it doesn’t happen well before the 2010 mid-term elections, then we will be dependent on Obama winning a second term. After all, the next Presidential campaign will effectively begin in 2011. And there’s no guarantee that Obama will win that second term.
Which means either it happens now, or the Democratic party will essentially hold LGBT rights hostage for 2012.
With that news, coupled with the recent Department of Justice brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act which insults the integrity and intelligence of LGBT people everywhere, leading LGBT Democratic political veterans are beginning to register their disgust with the Democratic Party. Heck, even the Human Rights Campaign, often derided for its soft touch with political leaders, sent a sternly worded letter to Obama concerning the DOMA brief.
Meanwile, the DNC will hold a fundraiser next week in Washington, dubbed the LGBT Leadership Council Dinner. The featured speaker at the fundraiser will be Vice President Joe Biden. Openly gay Congressional representatives Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, and Jared Polis will be in attendance.
But some key gay activists are beginning to turn down their invitations to this event. Confirmed now-shows so far include political strategist David Mixner and blogger Andy Towle. [Update: Additional withdrawals include Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda and Foundation, former top Clinton administration aide Richard Socarides, and HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse] Michelangelo Signorile has suggested that we “cut off the money flow.” Sean Bugg agrees, while Mike Rogers (a.k.a. “the most feared man in Washington”) puts an even finer point on it:
As long as tens of millions are being spent by the Pentagon to enforce Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, gays should say to politicians “you have our money, go get it back from Secretary Gates.”