Maine's junior Senator, the Republican Susan Collins, has the power to end the military's ban on openly gay soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen today -- or the ability to crush the hopes of those hoping to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell this year, according to a Democratic aide. It's her choice, says the Senate Democratic aide, who has direct knowledge of the talks leading up to today's planned cloture vote
on the defense spending bill that contains the repeal language.
The aide says supporters of repeal have all the votes they need to move the bill to a final vote, save for Collins, who has been the focus of a coordinated campaign to shift her position by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and President Obama, who the aide said called Collins yesterday to lobby her on DADT.
All three have attempted to get Collins to budge from her position that a cloture vote on the defense bill must be preceded by unlimited debate, which in Senate parlance means any Senator -- including the many vocal opponents of DADT repeal -- could offer a "non-germane amendment" (the aide suggested repeal of the health care law as an example) that would shut down debate and prevent a final vote on DADT. The aide said that an unlimited debate process would be all but unprecedented on a defense spending bill, and amounts to an "unreasonable demand" on Collins' part.
Now, with the hours ticking down until Reid announces a cloture vote on the defense bill, Democrats are waiting for Collins' counteroffer to their proposal to offer ten amendments before the final vote, which the aide says is a good faith effort to give Collins what she has professed to need all along.
Negotiations are ongoing, the aide told TPM, with Lieberman and Reid continuing to reach out to Collins with the hope that she'll take something less than unlimited debate to secure her cloture vote and, with it, the likely end to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
The Democratic aide did not say if a cloture vote fail tonight would mean Reid and others would strip out DADT from the defense bill for a final vote on military funding, as some have predicted.
Collins' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.