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Pelosi and Obama Endorse Standalone DADT Repeal

Nancy Pelosi released a statement last night on the failure of the defense authorization bill, which included a legislative repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She also said that she would work to pass a stand-alone legislative repeal by the end of the legislative session:

“Since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ has broad support among Senators, our troops, and the American people, it is my hope that that the Senate will move forward with an alternative legislative method. The bipartisan proposal from Senators Lieberman and Collins provides renewed hope that progress is still possible in the Senate; an army of allies stands ready in the House to pass a standalone repeal of the discriminatory policy once the Senate acts.

The President endorsed the move as well, urging the Senate to revisit repeal in the lame duck session. Spokesman Reid Chertlin said that the President wants to explore “all legislative options.”

So there it is. The Senate has a standalone bill. Harry Reid has promised to Rule 14 it to bypass committees and bring it to the floor. The President’s on board. The House will pass it – I don’t think Nancy Pelosi will let anything stand in the way. There’s nothing to it but to get the votes.

Apparently Blanche Lincoln missed the vote because of a root canal (!), but she said on the floor of the Senate yesterday she would have voted yes. So there’s a baseline of 58 votes. Joe Manchin, contrary to early reports, really opposes changing the policy:

In a statement to reporters tonight, Manchin suggested that as long as a vote on repealing DADT comes this year, he’ll be more than willing to shut it down.

“I do not support its repeal at this time,” he said in the statement. “I would like to make clear that my concern is not with the idea of repealing DADT, but rather an issue of timing.”

So Democrats and Susan Collins would have to find two other Republicans to support the bill. Scott Brown and Lisa Murkowski have publicly said they’d support it, but both voted no for procedural reasons yesterday. Other Republicans, like Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar, are possibilities.

The reason a standalone bill has a better chance is that it isn’t bound up with a large authorization bill for the Defense Department. So the procedural issues may fade. As for why they didn’t write a standalone bill, Sam Stein writes:

The answer is a bit complex, but also illustrates just how far the DADT debate actually has moved in the past year. Back in January, Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was convinced that the defense authorization bill would be the lone vehicle for getting DADT repealed. It had been, after all, 48 years since Congress failed to pass an authorization.

House Democrats felt the same way. But while they dutifully passed their own version of repeal later in the spring, they were left waiting for the upper chamber to act. The Senate did not.

Support for repeal then became conditioned on the results of a Pentagon study as well as the procedural underpinnings of the defense authorization bill. The study, in the end, was favorable for repeal proponents. But the procedural process of the defense authorization remained a loophole for Republicans to kill the legislation.

Had DADT been considered alone, one Senate aide suggested, it might have had a better shot of passage on Thursday night. Republicans, of course, would still have argued that tax cuts and budget issues should be considered first. But their votes against repeal, as it stood alone, would have carried far more moral weight than their arguments against the process for considering defense authorization.

It was axiomatic that once the Pentagon study was set for December 1, we would have run into these problems with a big defense bill. So a standalone bill probably should have been the move from the beginning. But that’s where we are now, with little time left in the legislative session.

If it fails, repeal is dead as an act for Congress for the forseeable future. But Joe Manchin, he that opposes the bill, pointed a way forward:

Besides, Manchin added — if supporters of repeal are upset with the Senate vote, they can always go talk to President Obama about ending DADT discharges with a stroke of his pen.

“While I may disagree with a repeal of DADT at this time, some believe that President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, if he so chooses, has the authority to suspend discharges under DADT, if he deems it a matter of national security,” Manchin said. “If this is correct, and the President was to make such an order, while I may disagree with it, I would respect his authority as President to do so.”

The commander-in-chief has options.

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David Dayen

David Dayen