Last night, the Senate rejected a proposal to open debate on the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act), which includes a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” by a vote of 57-40. Media and politicians have since responded in various ways.
The New York Times editorial board called yesterday “one of the most shameful days in the modern history of the Senate,” stating that the defense bill was blocked “because of an irrational prejudice against gay men and lesbians.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper called the vote “politics trumping policy,” and quoted Democrats who have insisted that there are 60 Senators who support repeal. For example, Senator Blanche Lincoln didn’t vote at all because she got there late (apparently thanks to a dentist's appointment) and Senators Lisa Murkowski and Scott Brown voted against it due to timing. All 3 Senators support repeal, and their votes would have made the difference. “It’s a sign of what Washington is like today that a majority of lawmakers could not pass a bill a majority of Americans say they want,” and which a number of Senators say they support, Cooper pointed out.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a leader in bringing the issue to prominence, agreed, saying that there are a majority of Senators and citizens who wish to end this law due to its discriminatory nature, and that “this afternoon, process triumphed over those principles.” He and Senator Susan Collins are part of a bipartisan group that has decided to attempt to bring up the issue again as a free-standing bill.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates predicted this morning that if the freestanding bill is unable to pass in the Senate, the courts will overturn the law, leading to a what he called a “lack of predictability” and chaos. “This is something I think needs to be done very carefully,” he said. The military already experienced some of this chaos in October, when in less than two weeks, Judge Virginia Phillips ruled the law unconstitutional and denied a stay on that ruling; recruiters were instructed to welcome openly gay and lesbian applicants; and the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a stay at the request of the Obama administration, finally causing recruiters to again reject openly gay and lesbian applicants.
Some supporters of the repeal have put the blame on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not first introducing the tax cuts that Republicans had requested. Senator Collins, the only Republican to have voted to advance the bill, may have been more upset than anyone else according to the Wall Street Journal, after having tried to negotiate with Reid and Republicans for the past week. In contrast, Reid has said that Senator John McCain and other Republicans are trying to run out the clock in an attempt to prevent the vote from coming to the floor in this session. Still others are criticizing President Obama for slow progress on an issue he has supported since his presidential election, and say he still has the tools to end the law. Salon’s The War Room analyzes a list of politicians involved that “you might consider blaming” from various perspectives.
Servicemembers United released a statement in response to the failed vote, saying: “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.” The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network continued with its planned rally outside the Senate at noon today, and spokesperson Trevor Thomas commented, “A band of senators voted to continue the discrimination against gay and lesbian service members who are fighting and dying for our country.”
The stand-alone bill introduced by Senators Lieberman and Collins is supported by President Obama, and is expected to have a better chance at potential passage. But it is unclear when or if it will come to a vote, with the tight Senate schedule of the rest of the year. Collins and Lieberman say it could be considered before the Senate’s December 17 adjournment, according to FOX News, and Reid is supportive of bringing it up as well. If passed, it would still require House approval.
Jarrett Barrios, the president of GLAAD, expressed disappointment in the Senate outcome yesterday. “Today the media needs to amplify the voices of those patriotic and dedicated personnel being unfairly discharged simply because of who they are as well as the overwhelming support from the public and high-ranking military officials to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”
GLAAD urges all media, regardless of political affiliation, to continue covering this issue and highlight the stories of gay and lesbian citizens in the armed services.