WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans this afternoon blocked legislation that would have repealed the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, likely dooming any chances of repealing the policy this year.
Democrats could not win a procedural vote on the issue, and it fell three votes shy of the 60 needed to advance, by a 57-to-40 vote. Senator Scott Brown, a Massachusetts Republican, was among those who blocked the measure.
Brown was one of a handful of Republicans who had voiced support for repealing the 17-year-old policy, but he had also joined 41 other Republicans in saying he would filibuster any issue before a tax cut extension package and a budget proposal were addressed.
"Senator Brown has said we need to prevent the looming tax hike and fund the government before we move forward with other legislation," his press secretary, Colin Reed, said in a statement after this afternoon's vote. "He supports repealing don't ask, don't tell once those issues have been addressed."
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal was included in a much broader Senate bill that authorizes $726 billion in military spending next year. The defense authorization bill normally attracts broad bipartisan support and has passed every year for nearly a half-century. But this year partisan disagreements over the terms of the debate - as well as the inclusion of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal - have prompted Republicans to filibuster the measure.
“It’s disappointing, in a lot of different ways,” Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said in an interview after the vote. “I’m disappointed in it, but I’m not surprised because of the position the Republicans have taken on these legislative items.”
“It just continues unfairness, and just an institutionalized discrimination that’s unacceptable,” he added. “I think we’ll win it, I think we’ll get there. Like a number of things here, we’ve got to be patient and be willing to come back and fight another day. And we will.”
When asked whether it could be passed during the brief time left in the lame duck session, he said, “I think it’s going to be very, very difficult in the lame duck, given the fact that we’ve now got to do the taxes, we’ve got to do the spending, and we need to do START.”
These few weeks have been seen as advocates' best shot for a reversal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. If Congress doesn't take action, the measure would be much harder to pass next year, when Republicans take control of the House and Democrats have fewer votes in the Senate.
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, made a similar pledge as Brown -- to block the measure unless the tax package and budget were dealt with first -- but she still voted this afternoon to advance the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal.
She was the lone Republican to do so, but not before criticizing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for not doing more to accommodate Republican objections. She had requested last night that Reid hold off on a vote until the tax package had been completed, and she also wanted him to allow more time for debate.
"There was such a clear path for us to be able to get this done," she said this afternoon on the Senate floor. "I'm perplexed and frustrated that this important bill will become victim of politics."
Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia, was the only Democrat to vote with Republicans. Three senators – Blanche Lincoln, Democrat of Arkansas; John Cornyn, Republican of Texas; and Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas – did not vote.
Lincoln later said she did not arrive in the chamber in time, but would have voted yes.
“I have bent over backwards to find a way to get this bill done,” Reid said. “But it is clear that Republicans – led by a couple of Senators who simply do not want to have a vote on repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ – are doing everything they can to stand in the way.”
Mark Arsenault of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.