- Sep 20, 2009
In a graphic example of election-year politics at work, a defense bill that would repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy got blocked Tuesday in the U.S. Senate by a Republican-led filibuster.
The bill stalled on a 56-43 vote, four short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the Republican opposition. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, changed his vote to "no" as a tactical move, allowing him to bring the measure up later.
Reid and other Democrats accused Republicans of stalling the National Defense Authorization Act, which traditionally passes with bipartisan support, to undermine the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal and an immigration provision offering a path to citizenship for students and soldiers who are children of illegal immigrants.
Republicans countered that Democrats were trying to use defense policy act that authorizes $725 billion in military spending to force through provisions popular with their political base ahead of the November 2 congressional elections.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs expressed disappointment at the vote but said "we'll keep trying" to get Congress to approve the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring openly gay and lesbian soldiers from the military.
A federal judge recently ruled that the "don't ask, don't tell" policy was unconstitutional, and the uncertainty of congressional action after Tuesday's vote further complicated the issue.
The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, said in response to the vote that the Justice Department should let the court ruling stand instead of filing an appeal.
Video: Lieberman: 'Don't ask' 'un-American' Video: Gaga: If you don't like it, go home Video: Gaga: Senators, repeal 'don't ask' Video: 'Don't ask, don't tell' on the line
"We still have a fighting chance to repeal DADT through congressional action, but in the meantime, the best interests of our men and women in uniform -- as well as the country -- are served by doing everything we can do to get rid of this discriminatory law," said Joe Solmonese, the group's president.
Debate on the defense bill was rancorous in the run-up to the vote. Republicans accused Reid of trying to prevent them from proposing amendments to the bill and criticized his plan to tack on the immigration provision, known as the DREAM Act.
"I've never seen such a cynical use of the needs of the men and women of the military," said GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, calling the expanded bill "a cynical act for political reasons as the election nears to try to salvage what appears to be a losing campaign."
Reid countered that the Republican opposition was a blow to gay and lesbian Americans, as well as those born to illegal immigrants, who want to serve their country.
"The Defense Department