WASHINGTON – Republicans blocked a Senate effort to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military Tuesday, revealing a sharp, election-year contrast between the political parties on an Obama administration priority.
Republicans filibustered debate on the annual defense authorization bill that contained the provision. GOP opposition was solid, with no Republican senator voting to allow debate to move forward.
But with polls showing that Americans overwhelmingly support allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, Democrats vowed to revisit the issue after the midterm election.
“Today’s vote was a vote for delay,” said Aubrey Sarvis, an Army veteran and executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, which favors repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“Hopefully, once the midterm election politics are behind us, common sense and good judgment will prevail.”
By blocking the defense bill, Republicans also held up a Democratic move to attach an immigration amendment important to Latino voters. That measure, known as the Dream Act, would give youths who are in the country illegally a path toward citizenship if they join the military or attend college for two years.
The provision on gay service members was included in the must-pass 2011 defense authorization bill after the House voted earlier this year to end the 1993 law, pending a Pentagon review expected in December.
Democrats linked the issue to the $725 billion military bill, which includes a 1.4 percent pay raise for the troops and $159 billion to continue funding the U.S. campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, using an opportunity to address an issue that is important to many voters in advance of the midterm election.
For Democrats, attention to the issue is likely to help motivate voter turnout while also portraying Republicans as insensitive to gay service members.
Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support repeal of the ban on gays serving openly.
But Republicans charged that by linking the issues to a military authorization bill, Democrats were seeking political gains and were jumping ahead of an agreement between the White House and military commanders to await the December Pentagon review.
“Why are we now trying to jam this thing through?” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who led the fight against the repeal of the military policy. “This is all about elections.”
It was the latest unified Republican effort to block President Barack Obama’s legislative agenda.
Republicans in the 111th Congress have engaged in a record number of filibusters but argue they are forced to do so because Democrats deny them enough opportunity to offer amendments. Democrats often reject Republican attempts to load up bills with unrelated measures.
Two Arkansas Democrats, Sen. Mark Pryor and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who is in a tough re-election battle, joined Republicans in voting against advancing the bill. The vote to end the filibuster was 56-43, short of the 60 votes required.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Republican leader, proposed a last-ditch deal Tuesday to open the debate with 20 amendments alternating between the sides – but only as long as the Dream Act was not among them. Democrats refused.