For observers closely following the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell proceedings in the Senate over the past several days, it’s all been about Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME). Her demand to hold four days of debate and allow amendments on the Defense spending bill that included DADT repeal (and do all that after a vote on the tax cuts) essentially doomed the bill to failure, a senior Democratic aide said.
But in the end, when Majority Leader Harry Reid put the bill to a cloture vote this afternoon, Collins voted yes. Republican Sens. Scott Brown (MA) and Lisa Murkowski (AK) — who also preferred Collins’ timetable — voted no.
So did Joe Manchin (D), the freshly sworn-in Senator from West Virginia, thus helping ensure that ending Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in this Congress is extremely difficult, at best.
A senior Democratic aide was unaware if Reid knew Manchin would vote no, but said that the understanding is that Manchin’s vote was something of a stunt.
“If he was somehow the 60th vote, I don’t think he would have voted the way he did,” the aide said.Manchin told reporters in a statement that his no vote will likely stay a no through the rest of the year at least. See his repose here. The senior aide said that Manchin’s office had told Reid’s office that the new Senator still needed “more time” to review the defense spending bill before he could vote for cloture.
As recently as this week, Manchin has claimed to have reservations about DADT repeal. On Monday, he told reporters he was concerned that repealing the ban now could impact soliders on the battlefield in Afghanistan as well as add to the military budget at a time the nation needs to cut costs. He said testimony from the chiefs of the Army and Marines opposing repeal of the ban during hearings last week swayed him toward waiting longer before taking action on DADT.
“They don’t believe that it should be invoked at a point of time when they’re engaged in combat, because it would be a hard transition for them,” Manchin told reporters, according to the AP. “So, if someone’s trying to push that through with a vote quicker, it might not be prudent. I’m not sure if the votes would be there to do that.”
The Democratic aide said that Reid chose to move the bill now because there wasn’t enough time left in the calendar to accept Collins’ demands. Had the Senate waited until after taxes (and included a three day break for Christmas between Dec. 24-27), a final vote on the defense bill would likely have come on Jan. 5, the day that the new Congress is sworn in.
Despite Manchin’s vote today and the failure of the cloture vote, the aide said there’s still a slim chance DADT can be repealed this year — thanks to a free-standing repeal bill currently being shopped around by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Collins, among others.