Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Bother


The effort to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule covering gays in the military appears to be dead, after a messy and botched legislative surgery – which, according to the Huffington Post, included Republican Susan Collins of Maine physically hitting Illinois senator Dick Durbin with the legislation.  I’m never watching C-SPAN when the good stuff happens.

Chief legislative surgeon Harry Reid says the DADT bill just ran out of time, as the clock runs down on the lame-duck session in the Congressional operating theatre, which has thus far featured a lot of angry screaming, arterial bleeding, and flat-lining bills.  Reid is at least as unpleasant as TV’s “Dr. House,” but much less skilled at arranging last-minute miracle cures.

This was one of those cases of poor scheduling and badly negotiated deals, which would seem to put the blame at the feet of the Reid, the Majority Leader, who has been in Congress for hundreds of years.  Naturally, aggrieved proponents of DADT repeal are blaming it on a “Republican filibuster,” even though one of the pivotal votes against cloture came from Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia.  You may recall Manchin’s preferred therapy for unhealthy legislation involves pumping it full of lead.  In the end, the vote was 56 to 43 in favor of beginning debate on passage, with 60 votes needed.  It does seem like the votes needed for repeal might have been there, if the process had been managed better.  That likely will not be the case in the next Congress.

The DADT repeal was attached to a larger National Defense Authorization Act, which seems like a rather slippery way to implement a major and unprecedented change to military culture.  It also introduced various other complications, not directly related to DADT repeal, which contributed to the bill assuming room temperature.  No matter your position on repealing the DADT policy, it seems reasonable to debate it alone, entirely on its own merits.  Instead, we got the usual legislative sleight of hand… only this time, cards wound up splattered all over the floor, and the trick was a bust.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he didn’t think this was the end of the drive to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but the Senate paramedics are looking up from the body and shaking their heads.

Susan Collins ended up voting in favor of the defense bill, but not until after it was doomed.  She was angry that a deal she thought she had reached with Reid fell apart.  “”I think there was such a clear path to get this done and I am perplexed and frustrated that this important bill is going to become the victim of politics,” she said.  In other words, the Congress you just voted for will decide what to do about gays in the military next year.  Meanwhile, the next terrified patient will be rolled into Harry Reid’s surgical theater.

Update: There is late word that Joe Lieberman does indeed plan to introduce a stand-alone bill to repeal DADT.  At least that will result in a more honest debate.  It’s possible the necessary votes will line up behind it, so the machines next to the DADT surgical table just beeped to register a faint pulse.