DADT suspense continues: maybe tomorrow

Susan Collins

Susan Collins

All the focus was on Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins Wednesday, with the question being whether she could be persuaded to vote to end the Republican-led filibuster against the defense authorization bill.

But that focus seemed at least somewhat misplaced. The latest discernible vote-count on the Defense cloture vote suggests Democrats have only 56 of the 60 votes they need to move to the bill and begin consideration of the language to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

The cloture vote had 57 votes in September (including that of Reid, who switched to “No” at the last minute only to retain the right to bring the vote up again for reconsideration). One “No” vote—Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor—has agreed to vote for cloture. But two “Yes” votes have since been replaced, during mid-term special elections, with two senators whose positions are not known on cloture—Illinois Republican Mark Kirk and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

Several moderate Republicans have publicly confirmed they are ready to vote for repeal of DADT –including Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski. But so far, none have indicated they are ready to cross the Republican party line drawn stark by a December 1 letter to Reid. In that letter, all 42 Republican senators said they would not vote to proceed on consideration of “any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase….”

What has changed since then is President Obama’s controversial announcement this week that he has agreed to the Republicans’ key demands on extending tax cuts. Many Democrats are expressing considerable anger at that agreement, saying it gives Republicans more than it gains for Democrats and that it threatens to escalate an already dangerous deficit.

What is unknown still, however, is whether any Republicans would be willing to vote for cloture on the defense spending bill without first gaining House and Senate approval of the agreement Republicans struck with President Obama.

Collins reiterated Wednesday that “Everyone on the Republican side wants to see the tax package completed first,” according to NBC News, and that she urged Reid to “postpone” the defense vote until after the tax bill is considered. But she suggested that plan might lead to the 60 votes for the defense bill.

Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart also reported Wednesday afternoon that Collins told him she would consider voting for cloture on the defense bill if Reid offered to let Republicans introduce 10 amendments and have at least two hours debate on each.

Collins, Brown, Murkowski, and several other moderate Republicans who are considered potential votes for cloture on the defense bill, all voted with Republicans today on two other cloture votes—one related to unions and another for senior citizens. The votes failed 55 to 43 and 53 to 45.

Reid announced Wednesday at around 7 p.m. that the Senate would consider two more cloture votes beginning around 11 a.m. Thursday and then, if those fail, proceed to a cloture vote on the Defense Authorization bill.

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