Guest column by Jim Neal – DADT: Behind the Scenes
Friend of the Blend, former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Neal (D-NC) wanted to share his latest piece on DADT with the coffeehouse. It’s a peek behind the political curtain…
By Jim Neal
Given my overexposure to US politics and the lessons gleaned from my unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 2008, I now get to be soothsayer of sorts. I advise clients on how certain legislation of interest is likely to exit the Congress. What I do is piece the mosaic together in a similar fashion to how a detective investigates a murder.
The public, even most of those supposedly in-the-know, often don’t grasp the dynamics of political inside baseball. The best illustration is how people interpret roll call votes. The overwhelming majority of pundits and activists assess a politician’s vote on a piece of legislation with the strict constructionism of a Justice Scalia. In reality, roll call votes are quite deceptive and misleading. Today’s murder of DADT by the Senate is a case in point.
A strict interpretation of the 57-40 roll call vote to proceed to debate over repealing DADT suggests that if Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.) and Blanche Lincoln (D- Ark.) been present and voted Aye- bumping that tally to 59- then Senator Scott Brown might have felt pressure to get in line, given his expressed public support for repeal of DADT and upcoming re-election bid. That scenario seems all the more probable given the biggest surprise of the day. Senator Susan Collins (R- Maine), who had agreed to support repeal of DADT only in the event that four days were allotted for a full debate, apparently abandoned that position and voted in favor of repeal.
That yarn is simply not the reality. The cloture motion was doomed from the moment Speaker Reid impulsively decided to bring the vote before the Senate today. Here’s the real skinny as best I can piece it together.
Senator Collins did not soften her conditions. She was able to make a symbolic Aye vote because she knew — as did others — that she had cover from her Republican colleagues, either or both of Senators Murkowski and Brown. In turn, Speaker Reid cared less about how the arch-conservative Senator Manchin voted. It didn’t matter. The Speaker wanted to clear the docket and get DADT out of the way. Other legislation in the pipeline takes priority, namely the tax cut bill and ratification of the START Treaty.
As for Senator Lincoln, she was at a dental appointment . What has gone unsaid is that she also wasn’t aware that Speaker Reid was bringing the cloture motion before the Senate today. That is the only reason she wasn’t present. She wasn’t needed. If she were, the vote would have been delayed.
With that as a backdrop, the drama will now move forward with a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT to be sponsored by Senators Lieberman, Collins and Udall (D- Colo.). Using a Senate procedure known as Rule 14, Speaker Reid can bring the legislation directly to the floor and bypass the Armed Services Committee.
Any hope of repealing DADT under a prospective Lieberman bill will require very tight coordination and communication between Senators Collins, Lieberman and their caucuses. Clearly there will have to be ample time allotted for GOP Senators to excoriate the legislation. However, this bill has no future if the Senate does not stay in session beyond December 17th as is currently planned.
Most Senators are anxious to get home and open Christmas presents and toast the New Year. They need to consider the peoples’ business first. Given that the President has effectively ceded control of the Senate calendar to the GOP via his so-called compromise framework on tax cut legislation, Democrats have no choice but to roll with the punches. That will require Speaker Reid to keep the Senate in session for as long as it takes. Only then might Senator Collins- with Senators Murkowski and Brown covering her back- take center stage as the Diva of DADT.
I hope that I will hear the Lady from Maine sing by the end of this session. Talk about an operatic production….
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