Senate backers of ‘don’t ask’ repeal to pursue new tactic

After Senate Democrats on Thursday failed, 57-40, to overcome a Republican filibuster of a defense policy bill that would repeal the 1993 ban of openly homosexual men and women from military service, senators from both parties unveiled what may be their 11th-hour bid to end the ban.

They said they will introduce stand-alone legislation that would repeal the gay ban.

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. - who had been in talks with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on the parameters for floor debate on the defense measure - said they were confident they could get 60 votes for the stand-alone bill, which would be identical to the repeal language in the authorization measure and a repeal provision in the House-passed defense bill.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he would co-sponsor the legislation.

"We're not going to give up," Lieberman told reporters after the vote. "We're going to keep fighting until the last possible second in this session."

At the White House, President Obama bemoaned the Senate's failure to move to the defense bill, but urged Congress to act this year on repealing the ban against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military.

"While today's vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts," Obama said in a statement. "I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame-duck session."

A spokeswoman for Reid said the Democratic leader is "supportive of this effort, but we will need significant Republican support to move forward given the time constraints we are facing in the remainder of the session."

Acknowledging that negotiations with Republicans to get to the 60-vote threshold had fallen apart, Reid abruptly called for Thursday's floor vote to invoke cloture and allow the Senate to debate on the defense bill.

"We've tried every possible way to move forward on this," Reid said, adding that he has "bent over backwards to get the bill done."

Reid and Collins reached agreement Wednesday on allowing debate on 10 Republican and five Democratic amendments to the defense bill. But other procedural issues, including the amount of time allotted to amendments and the scheduling of floor debate-remained unresolved. Republicans have said they want to consider a pending tax package and spending legislation before taking up other measures.

Still, Collins and several other Republicans, including Sens. Lisa Murkowksi of Alaska, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Scott Brown of Massachusetts, have said they support repealing the 17-year-old ban. But with the exception of Collins, all other Republican moderates voted with the rest of the GOP caucus to block the measure.

"I think he had a path forward and he [Reid] chose not to do it," Murkowski said. "He chose to close the door."

Collins, who voted with Republicans in blocking the defense bill in September, said she voted "yes" Thursday because Reid would allow debate on relevant amendments.

"I want to make clear, however, I'm not at all happy with the way this bill was handled," Collins said. "It's puzzling to me because it doesn't accomplish the goal. And there was a clear path forward to victory on this issue and to consideration of this bill."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who has already voted with Republicans several times since taking office last month, was the only Democrat to vote "no."

Manchin, who is concerned about repealing the law during wartime, said he informed Levin days ago of his planned vote.

"I thought, if I'm gonna err, I'm gonna err on the side of the troops and commanders in the field," Manchin said.

He said he would not have voted for cloture even if his was the 60th vote Democrats needed.

Reid cannot bring the defeated defense bill back up because he already filed a motion to reconsider it, a step Senate rules allow only once. Congress has passed the defense authorization bill annually for the last 48 years.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.