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DADT Repeal Fails in Senate; New Bill Planned

By L.K. Regan

The repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell attached to the defense authorization bill has failed in the Senate, thanks to the filibuster rule that effectively requires 60 votes to pass legislation. All hope seemed lost. But in the wake of the vote, a few senators have announced their intent to try one more time before the Senate adjourns later this month.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had been in negotiations for days with Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, who was seeking concessions on the adding of amendments and floor debate time to the bill. In an abrupt move that seemed to surprise his colleagues, Reid brought the defense authorization bill, which included DADT repeal as an amendment, to the floor for a vote. The vote, however, was not on the bill itself, but on whether to close off debate on the bill (a cloture vote, as it is called). Here, 60 votes were required for the bill to move forward, but the bill received only 57, with Collins being the lone Republican to cross over.

Reid's motivation for forcing the issue when he did not have the votes is unclear, though it clearly angered Collins, who made a floor speech complaining about the sudden end to negotiations. But most likely, Reid saw the writing on the wall: Collins' demand for several days of debate on the bill and the addition of numerous additional amendments would have taken the vote beyond the end of the lame duck session. At that point it would not pass anyway, as it would have to be reintroduced in what will be a heavily Republican House after the swearing in of the new Congress in January. It's now or never for DADT.

As the clock runs out on the lame duck session, all hope seemed lost; but it seems that several senators have banded together to try to give DADT one more shot before they recess for the holidays. Sen. Joe Lieberman (a Connecticut Independent) announced after the cloture vote today that he was banding together with Sen. Collins and Sen. Udall (a Democrat from Colorado) to introduce a piece of stand-alone legislation repealing DADT. Lieberman said in his press conference that Majority Leader Reid had offered not only to cosponsor the bill, but to expedite its path to the Senate floor under what's called Rule 14. Rule 14 would allow the bill to come up in the current lame duck session.

The football has been yanked away enough times at this point that such promises should be taken with a grain of salt. And any such bill is likely to face serious resistance in a Senate that has many procedural methods for blocking legislation. Still, Sen. Collins seems to believe that she can get it done. "I am convinced that there are 60 or even 61 or 62 votes to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell," she said. Only (a rapidly narrowing window of) time will tell.