WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats including Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken today launched a final push for a congressional repeal to the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the military, with Colorado’s Mark Udall warning that “if we don’t get this done this year, it could be years until it’s done.”
Hours later, Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will file a cloture motion on the Defense authorization bill, which includes a clause that will effectively repeal the law. Essentially, it gives the president and top military leaders the option to say that the policy can be repealed, and which point it would be. President Obama has said he’ll end the policy if Congress gives him the option first.
The issue is not whether DADT repeal has the votes on an up-or-down vote. It does. The issue, said proponents, is time. And opponents, according to Franken, are “just trying to delay things.”
Senate Democrats have six more weeks until the end of the 111th Session, and right now they’ve got 59 votes. That will drop by one to 58 when Illinois Republican Mark Kirk is sworn in on Nov. 29, but Kirk is an opponent of DADT, so the numbers won’t really change on that issue. But in January, Democrats drop to 53 seats, and proponents worry they won’t be able to convert enough moderates to garner the 60 votes needed to clear an almost-inevitable filibuster.
So six weeks. But next week is Thanksgiving, and the Senate may be off all week. Having the week between Christmas and New Year’s off is traditional as well, so that cuts it to four free weeks.
A report on troop attitudes toward repeal is due out no later than December 1. It’s expected to show that 70 percent of the military sees no problem with ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a boost to repeal proponents. Hearings on that report must be held, and they’re not likely until the week after that. Arizona Sen. John McCain has promised tough questions on the report, including whether a secondary survey is necessary.
Assuming opponents use every parliamentary tactic in the arsenal, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell would require up to two full weeks to pass. Republicans who would bring over the numbers necessary say they want a “full debate”, including an open amendment process, before voting for cloture. That puts a vote on the week before Christmas — and that’s if absolutely nothing else comes up in that time.
Then note that there are still must-pass bills like annual appropriations, and high-priority bills like the START nuclear treaty with Russia that will require significant floor time.
Klobuchar said President Obama and top military brass like Mullen have shown courage in calling for repeal, and that the troops on the ground showed courage in widely backing repeal as well. Now, she said, it just remains to be seen “whether the people in the U.S. Senate will have the same courage.”