With Just 40 Votes, Republicans Block Debate Over Defense Authorization Bill

Moments ago, in a 56-43 vote, Senate Democrats failed to invoke cloture on the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, falling three votes shy of the 60 need to break a Republican filibuster. As is customary, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) voted against the measure as a procedural tactic, allowing him to revive the bill at a later date. The result represents a major setback for advocates of repealing the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and supporters of the DREAM Act.

Chances of invoking cloture began to fade early this afternoon, as moderate Republican Senators who support DADT repeal, used procedural explanations to substantiate their vote against starting debate on the measure. Along with concerns about voting to repeal the DADT policy before the Pentagon completed its year-long review and the suggestion that the DREAM Act was unrelated to national defense, the Republicans also complained that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was limiting debate to just three amendments — DADT, DREAM, and secret holds. Reid, however, had made assurances that he would consider Republican amendments after the recess. Ignoring Reid’s concession, Republican moderates like Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) took to the floor to equate repealing the ban against open service in the military to restricting the right of Republicans to offer alternative amendments:

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME): “I support the provisions in this bill. I debated for them; I was the sole Republican on the Committee that voted for the Lieberman-Levin language on don’t ask, don’t tell. I think it’s the right thing to do, I think it’s only fair. I think we should welcome the service of these individuals who are willing and capable of serving their country. But I cannot vote to proceed to this bill under a situation that is going to shut down debate and preclude Republican amendments. That too is not fair.”

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME): “First and foremost, the Senate should have the ability to debate more than the three amendments the Majority Leader is allowing…We should all have the opportunity to review that [DADT] report which is to be completed on December 1, as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes”

SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R-MA): “The majority party, I feel, is using our men and women in uniform as a tactic to pass politically expedient legislation entirely unrelated to the defense authorization. It is in my view not appropriate.”

SEN. GEROGE VOINOVICH (R-OH): “The DREAM Act deals with immigration and shouldn’t be on this bill. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is a controversial issue that needs to be debated on the Senate floor but I believe it would be logical to wait for the Department of Defense to issue its report on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’”

Democrats, who also today announced that they would likely adjourn a week early, say they plan to take up the act after the midterm elections. “We’re going to come back into session in November or December. I spoke to Sen. Reid today. He’s very clear and strong that he’s going to bring this bill to the floor in November or December,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) told the Washington Blade’s Chris Johnson. Lieberman also predicted that “opponents of the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ have enough votes to take that repeal out of this legislation,” something Collins confirmed in her floor speech today, saying that she would vote “against the amendment to strike don’t ask, don’t tell provisions from this bill.”

At a press conference earlier today, Durbin said that this is the first time since 1952 that the Congress failed to pass a defense authorization measure. “What would be unprecedented is if Republicans block the Senate from passing the defense authorization bill for the first time since 1952,” Durbin said.

UPDATE It is important to note that senators representing a relatively small minority of the American population sustained a filibuster of a bill despite the fact that it contained very popular provisions. According to polling, 70 percent of Americans support the DREAM Act and 75 percent of Americans support fully repealing DADT. The 42 senators who filibustered the bill, on the other hand, represent only 36 percent of the American population. Thanks to senate procedure, a small minority can easily obstruct the will of the vast majority of the public.

UPDATE Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln were the two Democrats who joined the Republican filibuster.