Republicans are reportedly scouring for filibuster votes against the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal and are expected to focus their efforts on winning over Democrats Jim Webb of Virginia and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
And The Hill newspaper reported Monday that, in the alternative, some Republicans may try to amend the repeal language to require that—not just Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen but also—the chiefs of all branches of service certify the readiness of troops in order for repeal to take effect.
Such an amendment, if approved, would likely create a big hurdle for repeal because several of the branch chiefs have made very public their opposition to repeal.
The DADT repeal language approved by the full House and by the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 27 calls for repeal to take effect once the President, the Defense Secretary, and the Chairman “certify” that three things have taken place. Those three things are: 1) that the three men have “considered the recommendations contained in the report and the report’s proposed plan of action,” 2) that the DOD has “prepared the necessary policies and regulations to exercise” repeal, and 3) that the implementation of those policies and regulations is “consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.”
Just one day earlier, the chiefs of the Air Force, Army, Marines, and Navy sent a letter to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), an opponent of repeal, expressing their carefully couched concerns about repeal. Those concerns primarily involved a desire to get significant input from servicemembers and their families and –as Army General George Casey put it— get a better understanding of “what the impacts on readiness and unit cohesion might be.”
But before the Senate Armed Services Committee in February, the generals more frankly opposed repeal. Casey said he has “serious concerns” about the impact on “readiness and military effectiveness.” Air Force General Norton Schwartz said, “This is not the time to perturb the force.”
One day after the historic votes on the House floor and in the Senate committee, Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued a message to servicemembers to let them know what the Congressional action on repealing DADT means, thus far, to them. His brief message, May 28, was clearly intended to emphasize the repeal is not yet a done deal.
“First, the legislative process is long and complex,” wrote Gates. “While it appears likely that Congress will eventually change the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ law, we do not expect the legislation that would do this to be presented to the President for months—perhaps not until the end of the year.”
“Second,” said Gates, “the legislation involved is a deferred repeal. In other words, it would repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ but only AFTER, I repeat AFTER, the ongoing Department of Defense high level review is completed and only after the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and I all can certify that we are ready to make this change without hurting unit cohesion, military readiness, military effectiveness and recruiting and retention.”
“Third, while this process plays out over time,” said Gates, “nothing will change in terms of our current policies and practices. Current law, policies and regulations remain in place and we are obligated to abide by them as before.”
And fourth, said Gates, “the Department of Defense review on this issue that I initiated earlier this year will continue as before and is more important than ever.”
Senator John McCain, the ranking minority member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has not yet announced how he will oppose the repeal language during floor debate. Early reports suggested he or another Republican might try to filibuster the DOD bill in an effort to kill the repeal.
To amend the DOD bill to require all service chiefs certify repeal would require 51 votes. To stage a filibuster, Republicans would need 41 votes, and they have 41 Republicans in the Senate. But since moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted for repeal in Committee, she is not expected to support a filibuster against it. And The Weekly Standard, a conservative political website, predicts her moderate Republican colleague Olympia Snowe of Maine would also support repeal.
What Republicans are hoping for now, suggests The Weekly Standard, is that Democrat Jim Webb of Virginia—who opposed repeal in Committee—will join a filibuster attempt. Their next best bet for a 41st vote, it said, would be Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas, who has said he would vote against repeal if a vote comes up before the Pentagon study is submitted.
Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is not the only controversy brewing in the Defense authorization bill. There’s also a fight over whether to fund an alternate engine for the Air Force’s existing F-35 fighter jets. The House version of the Defense authorization bill includes the funding; the Senate version that passed committee does not. Both the Pentagon and President Obama say the alternate engine is not needed, and President Obama has vowed to veto any DOD authorization bill that includes it.
And Senator McCain successfully amended the DOD authorization bill to require 6,000 National Guard troops be sent to the Arizona-Mexico border. The amendment passed on a 15 to 13 vote. That same language has been rejected by the Senate in earlier efforts and will likely face opposition during the floor consideration of DOD authorization.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network predicts the full Senate could take up the Defense authorization bill, which contains the DADT repeal provision, as early as June 18.
The Senate takes a recess on July 4 and returns Monday, July 12. The Senate then takes recess from August 9 through September 10. Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has said he thinks the DOD authorization bill will likely come up before the July 4 recess or the August 9 summer recess.