by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Associate Editor
The Senate turned down the attempt to move to final debate and vote on a defense bill that would repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT). The vote was 57-40 - three short of the 60 votes needed.
Senator Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, called a key procedural vote on repeal of DADT despite having failed to reach agreement with Republicans to proceed.
'There is simply no evidence and no justification - legal, military or otherwise - for keeping this policy in place,' Reid said on the Senate floor, emphasizing that 'it would be unconscionable to leave here without it passing.'
Leading up to the Senate showdown, Reid had been locked in negotiations with Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who supports the repeal. It had been expected that she would vote against the repeal, but she ultimately backed the effort.
Still, Collins said she was 'perplexed and frustrated' by Reid's decision to call a vote Thursday afternoon.
'I am extremely disappointed that the Senate majority leader walked away from negotiations in which we were engaged and which were going well,' Collins said at a press conference after the vote. 'There was a clear path forward for completion.'
However, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) - who had originally said she would vote for repeal - voted no. Other moderate Republican senators, including Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) also voted no, along with a majority of Senate Republicans. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia also voted against repeal.
Republicans had earlier indicated that without an agreement about the number of amendments and the timing of the debate, they would vote against moving forward to vote on the legislation.
Advocates of repealing the policy criticized the vote, saying the effort to allow Gays to serve openly in the military had fallen victim to political squabbles in the Congress.
'Today, leaders of both parties let down the U.S. military and the American people,' said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign. 'Instead of doing what is right, the world's greatest deliberative body' devolved into shameful schoolyard spats that put petty partisan politics above the needs of our women and men in uniform.'
Solmonese vowed that 'this fight is too important to give up despite this setback, and we will continue fighting in this lame duck session. It's not over.'
Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut who caucuses with Democrats, said after the vote that he and Collins will now introduce free-standing legislation - separate from the defense bill - to repeal the policy.
"Sixty - and I think maybe more than 60 - members of the United States Senate have made clear that they support the repeal of DADT and while that is the case, and it is the case, we are not going to give up," Lieberman said.
He said he and Collins were "disappointed that the vote occurred this afternoon" and had not been delayed by Reid until a later date.
Today's vote marked the second time this year that lawmakers in the upper chamber have acted on the controversial issue.
On September 21, Senate Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), shot down the bill. Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the bill over a GOP filibuster, but only secured 56 votes. However, one of the no votes was from Reid, who only took that vote in a procedural move to allow him to bring up the measure again at a later date.
Last week, the Pentagon unveiled a study that found two-thirds of troops thought repealing DADT would have little impact on their unit's ability to fight.
Still, the service's top uniformed leaders cautioned about overturning the policy too soon.
In congressional testimony last week, three of the four service chiefs said they would oppose lifting the ban during wartime because of resistance among combat troops.
While most troops signaled they didn't care if Gays served openly, nearly 60% of the Marine Corps and Army soldiers in combat arms units predicted problems would arise.
The rejection was a defeat for President Barack Obama, who campaigned promising to overturn the law and later called it one of his top legislative priorities for the year. Obama issued the following statement:
'I am extremely disappointed that yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act. Despite having the bipartisan support of a clear majority of senators, a minority of senators are standing in the way of the funding upon which our troops, veterans and military families depend. This annual bill has been enacted each of the past 48 years, and our armed forces deserve nothing less this year.
'A minority of senators were willing to block this important legislation largely because they oppose the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." As commander in chief, I have pledged to repeal this discriminatory law, a step supported by the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and informed by a comprehensive study that shows overwhelming majorities of our armed forces are prepared to serve with Americans who are openly Gay or Lesbian. A great majority of the American people agree. This law weakens our national security, diminishes our military readiness, and violates fundamental American principles of fairness, integrity, and equality.
'I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Armed Services Committee Chairman Levin, and Senators Lieberman and Collins for all the work they have done on this bill. While today's vote was disappointing, it must not be the end of our efforts. I urge the Senate to revisit these important issues during the lame duck session.'
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