WASHINGTON – For the second time this fall, Republicans in the Senate thwarted another attempt by Democrats to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the military’s discriminatory policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly.
The Senate voted 57-40 on cloture to open discussion on the annual defense authorization bill that contained the DADT language. Sixty votes were needed.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., surprised many observers this week by calling a cloture vote.
That vote was not expected this soon in the lame-duck session, and those seeking to repeal DADT worried that they did not have enough time to line up necessary supporters.
“Today a band of senators voted to continue the discrimination against gay and lesbian service members who are fighting and dying for our country,” said Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis, executive director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
“This continued delay is an outrage against these service members and the more than 14,000 who have already lost their jobs under this discriminatory law. History will hold these senators accountable and so will many of their constituents. There will be no place for these Senators to hide,” he said.
“The Senate and the President must remain in session and in Washington to find another path for repeal to get done in the lame-duck. While difficult, realistic options still exist for advocates and Senators to move repeal this year. We need to keep pushing as the Senate is scheduled to break for holiday vacation,” Sarvis said.
“We implore all who support repeal to join us outside the Senate this Friday. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, ‘If not now, when?’”
Numerous LGBT groups and supporters of the DADT repeal will rally at high noon ET/9 PT on Friday at the Capitol.
The news disheartened members of Servicemembers United, which is fighting DADT.
“This was a major failure on the part of the Senate to simply do its job and pass an annual defense authorization bill. Politics prevailed over responsibility today, and now more than one million American servicemembers, including tens of thousands of gay and lesbian troops, are worse off as a result,” said Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Since the votes are there in isolation, the Senate should still consider a stand-alone bill to repeal the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law before adjourning for the winter holidays.”
Shortly after Thursday’s vote by the Senate, the Human Rights Campaign urged President Barack Obama to end the legal defense of DADT and to halt DADT discharges.
“The Senate’s apparent refusal to act on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal makes Presidential action imperative in order for him to fulfill his state of the union promise,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The only measure of success is an end to the discharges and anything less is unacceptable.”
Under his powers to ensure national security following the September 11 attacks, the President has the ability to issue stop-loss orders preventing certain service members from discharge. Pending an enduring solution to this unjust and discriminatory law, the President can and should suspend DADT-related discharges under the stop-loss provision.
“In this time of war, we cannot sustain a policy that has already deprived our military of thousands of service members, many with critical skills in fighting terrorism,” Solmonese said.
The DADT law has also been embroiled in seemingly endless legal wrangling with the administration defending the law’s constitutionality in court. HRC once again encourages the President to abandon that defense. Should the administration decide to proceed, the President can at least instruct government lawyers to inform the appellate court that the Executive Branch believes “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to be unconstitutional.
“Every day that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is in force, Americans are losing out on the best and brightest service members defending our country,” Solmonese said. “If Congress won’t act, it’s up to the President to clean up the mess they made when they enacted this discriminatory and unconstitutional law nearly two decades ago.”
Log Cabin Republicans had another spin on the story. They blame Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for “effectively locking Republicans out of the debate.”
“There is no other way to describe it – today Senator Reid torpedoed repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” said R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. “Despite heroic efforts by Sen. Susan Collins to craft a fair and reasonable process for debating one of the most important bills addressed by Congress every year, Sen. Reid chose to turn his back on days of negotiation in favor of blaming Republicans for his failures.
“Today could have been a day of celebration for all Americans who support our servicemembers to serve both honorably and honestly. Instead, brave men and women will continue to serve under a failed and unconstitutional policy that has been firmly rejected by the American people, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Log Cabin Republicans are angered and disappointed, but we are fully committed to continuing the fight against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ by whatever means necessary. We are tremendously grateful to Senator Collins for her efforts, and look forward to the day when together we will see this statute erased.
“In a statement on the floor in which she passionately described her support for repeal and efforts at negotiating with the Majority Leader, Senator Collins noted on the floor that she believed that the Senate was on a path to success, and that she, along with Senator Joe Lieberman were working in good faith on a compromise which would have ended ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the Majority Leader’s response was to guarantee failure instead of meeting in the middle,” Cooper said.
Log Cabin Republicans have maintained a three-front strategy against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ lobbying for repeal in Congress, consulting with the Department of Defense, and filing suit in federal court. The case went to trial in July 2010, and Judge Virginia Phillips ruled on Sept. 9, 2010, that the policy violated the First and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case.