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Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday that if Republicans filibuster the National Defense Authorization Act -- which houses "don't ask, don't tell" repeal -- he would file for a cloture motion that requires 60 votes in order to move to a debate on the legislation.
Although the bill primarily funds the Department of Defense, Reid said the bill was "especially important" this year because it would address two issues that were "long overdue" -- repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act, a bipartisan measure that would create a way for undocumented students who came to America as children to gain permanent residency through higher education or military service.
"I think we should choose common sense over discrimination," Reid said of repeal. "We're going to match our policy with our principles and finally say that in our country, everyone who steps up to serve our country should be welcome."
As a concession, Reid said he told Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell that Republicans could take a vote on an amendment to strip out the repeal language. According to a senior Democratic aide, this would require 60 votes to pass.
McConnell, who spoke to reporters shortly before Reid, said the bill included several items that made the legislation "needlessly controversial," including the repeal language and the DREAM Act.
"There are a number of elements in that bill that have nothing to do with defense," he said, adding that the repeal provision allows "eliminating 'don't ask, don't tell' without the study" from the Pentagon due out in December.
But he did not say one way or the other whether Republicans would filibuster the legislation.
"I can't tell you right now how easy it will be to move forward with that bill," he said.
When Reid was asked if he had the 60 votes to break the filibuster, he responded, "We'll sure find out."
A source familiar with the process said that if the GOP filibusters, Reid would file the cloture motion this Thursday and it would come up for a vote next Tuesday. If 60 senators vote to proceed with debate on the legislation, the filibuster will be broken.
Republicans will then have an opportunity, if they choose, to vote on an amendment that strikes DADT repeal from the bill.
But a Democratic aide said the GOP would not be able to offer other "poison pill" amendments that might significantly alter the nature of the repeal measure.
The aide added that if Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on taking a final vote on the NDAA, Reid may have to file for another cloture vote, which would again require the approval of 60 senators in order to move to a vote on the legislation.
- This article has been corrected from an earlier version.