Equal rights activists scored a major victory today, as the Senate Armed Services committee voted 16-12 to give the Pentagon the power to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell–a policy that bans openly gay people from serving in the military. However, numerous obstacles still remain, including an explicit threat from multiple Republicans that they’ll filibuster the legislation when it reaches the Senate floor.
Maine Republican Susan Collins joined 15 Democrats in adopting the repeal plan as an amendment to the 2011 Defense Authorization Act, which should receive a floor vote next month. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) was the lone Democrat to vote ‘no’ with the Republicans. The House is expected to adopt similar language later tonight or tomorrow.But key Republicans adamantly oppose the move, and are willing to take extraordinary measures to prevent the repeal from going through.
“I’ll do everything in my power [to stop the repeal],” said Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who serves as ranking member on the Armed Services Committee yesterday.
McCain was echoed by Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who made his promise to obstruct explicit: “If it is adopted, I will not sign the conference report, and there will be an attempt to filibuster the bill on the floor,” Wicker said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the White House all support overturning the ban, though until this week, their plan had been to delay legislative action until after the Pentagon completes a review, analyzing the effects of implementing repeal. But congressional leaders and activists forced their hand, and they agreed to a compromise: Congress will pass a law now, but instead of overturning DADT directly, it will delay repeal until the review is complete and Gates has given the green light.
Some wavering senators, including Webb, cite the Pentagon’s reluctance as a rationale for opposing repeal. But by putting the provision in the authorization bill, Democrats gave themselves tremendous leverage–Republicans will have a hard time sustaining a filibuster of crucial national security legislation based on opposition to a policy that’s supported at the highest levels of the military.