On Wednesday evening, Senate majority leader Harry Reid postponed a full vote in the Senate on the bill that includes language to repeal the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian troops. The roll call vote is now scheduled to take place around 12:00 p.m. Thursday, shortly after votes on the DREAM Act and the 9/11 firefighters health and compensation bill.
The postponement came after an afternoon of negotiations where independent Sen. Joe Lieberman served as a de facto intermediary between Sen. Reid and Republican senator Susan Collins, who supports the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" but wants a "fair and open" process for the Defense Authorization spending bill, which contains the DADT repeal provision.
As a result of the talks, Senate Republicans would have the opportunity to propose 10 amendments to the defense funding bill, and Democrats could propose five. Each amendment would be subject to two hours of debate.
Collins declared, before the postponement, that she would not vote to bring the bill to the Senate floor if it were scheduled to take place Wednesday night, as earlier reports had indicated. Instead, the senator from Maine said Republicans would block the legislation until Congress formally addresses whether to extend the Bush-era tax cuts.
"I reminded the majority leader, as has Senator [Joseph] Lieberman, that everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first [before the defense authorization bill is brought up]," Collins said in a statement released Wednesday evening. She stipulated that if Reid postponed the vote until after the tax vote, "I'll do everything I can to help him proceed to the bill. But if he does not do that, then I will not. This is the same position that I've had all along ... if you really care about the defense authorization and the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' then you would accept the proposal."
Since the defense bill vote is now scheduled before the tax package will be considered, it's outcome is highly unpredictable. Capitol Hill insiders generally believe it could fall either way. A successful vote on the motion to proceed Thursday, however, would only be the first step in the process of considering the bill and would not guarantee final passage of repeal.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday afternoon that President Barack Obama has made several calls to Democrats and Republicans to win their support in repealing "don't ask, don't tell" and passing the DREAM Act, which offers a path to citizenship for immigrants.
"I think we are — on 'don't ask, don't tell,' I think we are very, very close to seeing that repeal pass," Gibbs said. "You’ve had important endorsements over the past few days. And I think, in many ways, as a result of the process and the survey that the Pentagon issued last week, the president is hopeful and encouraging Democrats and Republicans to get behind that repeal."
Below is the full statement Sen. Collins released Wed. evening on the Defense authorization negotiations:
WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who supports repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” released this statement tonight.
“Senator Joe Lieberman and I continue to negotiate in good faith with the Majority Leader to try and come up with a fair process under which the important Defense Authorization bill could be considered in the limited time remaining in this session. Without a fair process, the motion to proceed to the bill would likely fail in the U.S. Senate.
"Senator Lieberman and I requested a meeting with Senator Harry Reid last week during which we outlined a specific plan for allowing debate and amendments similar to how the Senate has considered the authorization bill in the past.
"It wasn’t until 1:35 pm today that I received a legitimate offer from Senator Reid, which I consider a good starting point. We made a counter offer which would provide sufficient time for debate, and includes protections to help ensure that Republicans would be able to offer a limited but fair number of amendments that are relevant to this legislation.
"I am encouraged that the Majority Leader decided to postpone the vote he had scheduled for tonight. I urged him to do this so that we could consider the tax legislation first, which I believe could be on the floor as early as tomorrow and completed quickly. At that point, I believe we could move immediately to the Defense Authorization bill under a fair agreement, and I would vote to do so. I would hope he carefully considers our proposal. I believe we have outlined a very clear path forward for the Majority Leader to take that would allow this very important debate to occur."