The effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the controversial policy barring gays from serving openly in the military, was dealt a blow Tuesday as Democratic leadership failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward to debate on a bill that would overturn the 17-year-old ban. Both sides walked away accusing the other of playing politics on the issue.
The vote on whether to proceed to debate of the defense authorization bill, which includes both the DADT repeal and the DREAM Act, a measure that would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who pursue higher education or a career in the military, failed with a 56-43 vote. Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor voted with the entire bloc of Republicans against moving forward to debate on the package.
In remarks following the vote, both sides traded barbs accusing the other of playing politics with the defense authorization bill. “I am disappointed that my Republican colleagues put partisan politics ahead of the best interests of the men and women who courageously defend our nation,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in a statement.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) held a press conference following the vote to blast the proposed changes. Graham argued that dropping these changes on the military while the nation is involved in two wars is “unfair,” and accused Democrats of trying “to make political points 40-something days before the election” with those both amendments. “Whether Lady Gaga likes it or not is not of great concern to me,” said Graham, referring of course to the pop star’s effort to rally support for overturning the policy.
McCain also accused Democrats of only trying to “energize the gay and lesbian vote” before a major election. He has said previously that he believes a survey that the Department of Defense is conducting on the impact a repeal would have on the military should be completed before the policy is repealed. But on Tuesday, he also voiced concerns with the survey itself and whether the survey itself adequately addresses concerns about the policy.
Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, called today’s vote “a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law,” one that put service men and women in the middle of partisan wrangling. “We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections,” said Sarvis. “Let’s be clear: Opponents to repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay.”
Sarvis said opponents of the measure would now look to a lame duck session after the election for repeal, but acknowledged that even then it “will have a slim shot.”