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Will He or Won't He?

Will He or Won't He?


The timing of a potential vote on "don't ask, don't tell" repeal is the key to its success, but it's tough to gauge just how committed Senate majority leader Harry Reid is to passing repeal before the end of the year.

"I don't know if I'll bring it [up for a vote] before Christmas," Reid told reporters Thursday, adding later that he could call the Senate back for votes post-Christmas. "We are in session, if necessary, up to January 5," he said.

That forecast didn't inspire confidence when taken cumulatively with others of Reid's recent remarks.

When the majority leader laid out his voting priorities Wednesday morning from the Senate floor, repeal wasn't among them. On Thursday morning, he acknowledged the victorious House passage of stand-alone repeal legislation by telling his colleagues, "We're going to have to deal with that [bill] in some way."

The framing didn't compare particularly favorably to what he said mere moments earlier about the DREAM Act: "It's an extremely important piece of legislation allowing young men and women to join the military. If they serve two years in the military, they would be eligible to get their green cards and also continue their education -- an extremely important piece of legislation."

Nor did it have the fuzzy feel of his sentiments about the health and compensation bill for 9/11 workers: "We hope we can move forward on that. There is thousands of people who are desperately ill that need to be helped as a result of that terrorist attack that took place on 9/11."

Reid's staff continues to say he will address repeal by year's end. "We still plan to consider 'don't ask, don't tell' before the end of the year," said one aide to Reid.

But repeal advocates and Hill staffers believe waiting to bring up the bill until after Christmas could kill its chances for passage.

"The problem is that we could lose votes with members not returning after Christmas -- this would be extremely risky, particularly now when we have the votes," said one Senate aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The aide said in the best of all possible worlds, repeal would be considered as soon as the omnibus bill to fund the government is passed, which could be as early as this weekend.

"There is no reason the vote cannot be held immediately after the funding bill," the aide said. "The repeal bill is a privileged measure that can be immediately considered."

And Sen. Joe Lieberman urged Reid to consider DADT repeal even before returning the START ratification.

"I believe instead of going back to the START treaty, we should go to the independent stand-alone repeal of don't ask don't tell Saturday night," Lieberman said on MSNBC. "We can get it done by Monday, maybe Tuesday at the latest, and then go back to the START treaty."

But repeal advocates continue to say they have gotten no firm commitment on the timing of vote from Reid.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday he thinks the measure could pass if it comes to a vote.

"I believe we have the votes," he said in response to a question from The Advocate. "It's clear that whether it's Senator Brown or Senator Murkowski or Senator Snowe or others, there is an effort to get this done if we have time to."

But given the opportunity, Gibbs declined to say whether President Barack Obama would become more visibly involved in pushing the Senate leadership to take up repeal, though he did say the president is speaking with Reid "regularly." (Video of the exchange here.)

In terms of vote count, advocates believe they have at least 59 and maybe 60 votes, if Snowe approves the stand-alone.

Here's the breakdown: of the 58 Democratic senators, 56 are likely to vote for passage (excluding Sen. Joe Manchin, who joined the last GOP filibuster of the defense authorization bill, and Sen. Ron Wyden, who was recently diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing surgery Monday); but the support of GOP senators Susan Collins, Scott Brown, and Lisa Murkowski brings the count to 59, and most believe Sen. Olympia Snowe will also come along since she has signaled support for repeal though not specifically the stand-alone bill itself. A few other GOP senators, such as Richard Lugar and George Voinovich, are also potential gets.

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