Despite a last-minute push at a Monday rally in Maine and weeks of very public advocacy from Lady Gaga in favor of repealing the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy barring gay and lesbian soldiers from openly serving in the armed forces, Senate Democrats were unable to get enough votes to begin debate Tuesday (September 21).
Gaga rushed to Maine on Monday in an attempt to convince the state's two swing-vote Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, to support repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." But when the vote came to the floor Tuesday to begin debate on the massive defense spending bill, which includes a repeal of the policy, the Democratic majority fell short of the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to debate, losing out 56-43.
The organization Gaga worked with to spearhead her two-week campaign to get the discussion started, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, issued a statement following the vote.
"Today's Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law," said Army veteran Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of SLDN, a national organization dedicated to ending "don't ask, don't tell." "We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the mid-term elections. Let's be clear: Opponents to repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay. Time is the enemy here."
The vote was done in thanks to a filibuster by Republican Senator and Vietnam veteran John McCain, who attempted to block the vote to begin debate on the National Defense Authorization Act over Republican claims that the Democrats were attempting to stifle debate on the bill and not allow the minority party to offer amendments to the massive spending package for the military.
President Obama has long promised a repeal of the Clinton-era legislation, and the House has already passed a version of the spending bill that included the reversal of "don't ask, don't tell." But with the measure stalled in the Senate, hopes of passage have faded significantly. With the midterm elections less than six weeks away and Republicans expected to make gains in both the House and Senate, possibly even taking over leadership of one or both bodies, supporters of repeal were looking at Tuesday's vote as their last, best chance for passage this year.
"We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we'll have a slim shot," Sarvis said of the already-packed legislative session following the November midterm elections. "The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once mid-term elections are behind us."
Gaga's very public efforts helped put the issue on front pages and screens from coast to coast, but CNN reported that both Collins and Snowe said the singer's appearance at Monday's rally in Maine had no effect on their crucial votes. Collins, in fact, supported the repeal but told the network she felt she had to stay in line with her colleagues and vote against debate for procedural reasons.
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