When 60 votes isn’t enough: Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal falls short in the Senate

WASHINGTON — Only in politics can someone say they support something and vote no with a straight face. And only in the Senate is that considered normal.

This is a body where 60 votes is now a majority, a result of a minority party that has realized the power of harnessing the Senate’s thick procedural manual at an unprecedented level. But today, 60 votes wasn’t even enough, as the Senate succumbed as a body to its own procedural morass.

At issue was the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT), which theoretically had more than the 60 votes needed to pass on a straight, up-or-down vote. The giant Defense authorization bill, onto which Don’t Ask Don’t Tell had been appended, failed to clear a procedural vote that would have allowed that up-or-down vote. The margin: 57-40, with Minnesota’s senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, both voting yes.

“I’ve always believed the commitment of our top military leaders is critical to successfully implementing the repeal of this policy,” Klobuchar said.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, and other leaders in our Armed Services have testified in support of the repeal. While we weren’t able to move forward today, we will continue to work with our military leaders to pass this legislation.”

“I am deeply disheartened by the Senate’s failure to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Franken said in a statement. “Minnesotans who are honorably serving their country will continue to be discriminated against—and that’s just wrong. They should be able to serve openly. The country is ready for it.  The military is ready for it.  And it is still the right thing to do.”

Here’s what happened:

Majority Leader Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman and Republican Susan Collins had been trying to negotiatie a deal on how to bring the bill up. Collins, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans wanted what they called a “full” and “open” debate on the Defense authorization bill, including GOP amendments.

Problem there: There isn’t enough time left in the calendar year to debate the bill without restrictions, because it requires a bunch of unanimous consent resolutions and senators like Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who vehemently disagree with DADT as a matter of policy, would object to all of them.

So this has to be structured somehow. And for a ton of reasons that will surely and ultimately be leaked or openly revealed in the next few hours, Reid and Collins couldn’t come to terms on how that would happen. The pro-Reid folks are leaking that the math didn’t work on Collins’ timetable, that the ultimate vote wouldn’t have taken place before the new year. The pro-Collins folks say that if Reid had just let the GOP pick 10-15 amendments they wanted to offer, there would have been no problem.

However we got to this point, eventually Reid called Collins’ bluff and ordered the vote anyways.

Now was the moment, senators were on the record, and now press releases filled with caveats and if/then statements would be replaced with actual votes.

Collins swallowed her procedural gripes and voted yes. None of the other yes-on-the-issue-but-no-on-procedure folks joined her. In effect, 60 votes on the final product wasn’t enough to produce 60 votes needed to get to that point.

Epilogue: Lieberman and Collins say they’ll introduce a stand-alone Don’t Ask Don’t Tell bill that Reid says he’ll bring to the floor. So stay tuned on that. The clock is ticking…

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