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Scott Brown and the "don’t ask, don’t tell" filibuster

Posted by Rob Anderson  September 22, 2010 12:43 PM

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Brown Terrorism.jpg Given the fancy footwork Senator Scott Brown put on display this week, it's too bad he isn’t competing on this season’s "Dancing with the Stars."

Back in May, Joan Vennochi described Brown’s stance on "don’t ask, don’t tell" as a “delicate fan dance.” She was commenting on the senator’s remarkable ability to be simultaneously for and against a repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay service members. At the time, Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee wanted to add an amendment overturning "don’t ask, don’t tell" to this year’s defense authorization bill. So with the music cued, Brown began his "don’t ask, don’t tell" shimmy.

Step one, a shuffle to the right: He voiced his opposition to the amendment. But then came step two, a dramatic leap to the left: When the amendment eventually made it into the final version of the bill, Brown voted for it.

For Massachusetts's self-styled independent senator, it was the perfect outcome, politically at least. The headlines convinced conservatives in the Bay State and beyond that he is against gays serving openly in the military. His actions, on the other hand, enabled liberals to believe that the senator really does want to end the ban, and that he would be willing to work toward that end in his own, under-the-radar way.

When the bill finally made it to the full Senate this week, Brown attempted to pick up the dance where he left off.

With step three, he took another dip to the left: Before the vote, Brown vowed not to join a filibuster that would block the measure. When asked if he would help Republicans stop the repeal from coming to a vote, Brown responded, "No, no, no." He then took that opposition one step further, explaining to reporters that, in general, he would “never” support a filibuster to block legislation. "Filibusters never - it's not my style," he said.

And then came step four, a final, giant leap to the right: When it finally came time to vote on the bill, Brown did exactly the opposite of what he said he would do. He joined with every other Republican (and two Democrats) to block action on the issue.

Brown said that his vote against the measure wasn’t related to "don’t ask, don’t tell," but a protest against Democratic maneuvering to limit debate on the bill while they added unrelated amendments to it. And so either one of these two scenarios is true. Option one: Brown voted to invoke an obstructionist parliamentary procedure--one that he recently vowed to never invoke--to protest the Democrats’ use of an obstructionist parliamentary procedure. If that were the case, Brown would end up looking a bit absurd.

Or then there's option two: In joining with his fellow Republican senators, Brown simply found a easy, politically expedient way to once again have it both ways on a controversial issue. In other words, he voted against the repeal before voting for it before saying he wouldn't filibuster it before filibustering it.

If this were the case, Brown would end up looking like the type of cynical Washington politician he campaigned against just a short while ago.

Either way, the beat goes on.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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