Dems set stage for DADT showdown in December

DEMS SET STAGE FOR DADT SHOWDOWN IN DECEMBER…. As recently as last week, there was quite a bit of talk about Senate Democrats caving on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Leaders knew they have to pass the military spending bill (the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA), and if Republicans were prepared to kill the measure over DADT, Dems looked like they’d blink first.

This week, there’s been a shift in the other direction. President Obama has reportedly been working the phones, urging “dozens of Senators from both sides of the aisle” to approve the spending bill just as it is, leaving the repeal language intact.

By late yesterday, the Senate leadership announced it’s not caving, setting the stage for a December showdown

In a direct challenge to Republicans who support the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy barring gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, said he would push ahead with a military policy bill that includes language authorizing the Pentagon to repeal the ban. […]

[T]he White House on Wednesday repeated President Obama’s commitment to repealing the ban. In a statement later in the day, Mr. Reid said he would bring the bill to the floor, with the repeal language in place. “We need to repeal this discriminatory policy so that any American who wants to defend our country can do so,” Mr. Reid said.

Senate Democratic aides said Mr. Reid would try to take up the bill sometime in December, meaning after the Pentagon is due to release a report on how it would carry out a repeal. The report includes a survey of active-duty forces and their families, which shows that a majority do not care if gay men and women serve openly.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who supports DADT repeal but was rumored to be in talks to concede to Republican demands, applauded Reid’s announcement. Levin will hold (hopefully brief) hearings on the Pentagon survey immediately after its release, to be followed by a floor vote on the overall spending bill.

The trick, of course, will be getting to 60, since Senate Republicans, led by leading anti-gay Sen. John McCain, won’t allow the chamber to vote on troop funding if the DADT provision remains in the bill. Making matters slightly worse, by the time of the vote, the Senate will be split 58-42 in Dems’ favor, instead of the current 59-41, meaning the majority will need two Republicans to break ranks, not just one.

On that front, the key will be Reid’s willingness to have an extended debate. Greg Sargent reported yesterday that a handful of Senate Republicans would be willing to help Dems overcome a filibuster if the majority leadership allows Republicans to offer a series of amendments — a move that could take two weeks out of an already-brief lame-duck session.

With that in mind, the Washington Post reported today, “In a key concession to moderate Republicans seeking a fair debate on the measure, Reid is expected to allow senators of both parties to offer amendments to the bill, aides said. The move could lead to the support of at least some senators who have said they would vote to end the ban if Reid permits them to offer amendments.”

It seems a little foolish to think moderate Republicans would kill troop funding and allow DADT discrimination to continue based on a procedural dispute over unknown legislative amendments, but that’s apparently the dynamic we’re dealing with.

All it will take, then, is two Republicans willing to do the right thing.