'Don't ask, don't tell': repeal thrown into doubt by Senate vote

By blocking a repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' Senate Republicans have not killed the issue for good. But it is a major blow that Democrats could have difficulty overcoming.

Harry Hamburg/AP
Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Sen. Susan Collins leave a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington after a repeal of the 'don't ask, don't tell' law was blocked Thursday.

Senate Republicans blocked what might have been a last-ditch effort to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" before next year, when any effort to repeal the law is expected to become substantially more difficult.

President Obama called on Senators to keep fighting this year to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," which bans openly gay Americans from serving in the military. Proponents of repeal are considering decoupling "don't ask, don't tell" from the defense authorization bill and offering it as a bill of its own.

But time is against Senate Democrats and their leader, Harry Reid.

At the moment, Democrats need the help of only two Republicans to reach the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster. Next month, when Senate Republicans add five members to their ranks from the midterm elections, the Democrats will need the help of at least seven Republicans.

The frustration for Senator Reid is that he has at least three Republicans – Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – who have said they support a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" in principle. In Thursday's 57-to-40 vote – a procedural maneuver to bring the bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote – he got only one of them: Senator Collins.

But Senators Brown and Murkowski, as well as other Republican moderates, are holding firm on their pledge not to allow any business to take place until the Obama-GOP tax deal has been passed.

Moreover, Collins has told Reid that she and her fellow moderates don't want the repeal to be fast-tracked but open to a full range of amendments and debate.

By calling the vote Thursday before an agreement was in place with Collins, Reid signaled his frustration with what he considered stalling tactics at a time when urgency was needed. “They want to block a vote on this issue at all costs," he said.

Collins, despite her "yes" vote, expressed her frustration with Reid, suggesting that he was not willing to show the patience necessary win more Republican votes. “I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become a victim of politics,” Collins said on the Senate floor, addressing Reid.

Most Democrats see "don't ask, don't tell" as insupportable prejudice. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen are also strong supporters of repeal.

Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona suggest that a repeal could cause problems among crucial infantry units – problems that could harm the military's effectiveness at a time when it is at war in Afghanistan. The heads of the Marines, Army, and Air Force have said a repeal could be problematic and should be delayed until America is no longer on a war footing.

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