WASHINGTON -- A major defense authorization bill carrying the repeal of the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' law was blocked on Thursday by Senate Republicans and one Senate Democrat after negotiations between the parties failed. A number of moderate Republicans who said they supported a repeal, including Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), voted to filibuster the measure. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined their efforts.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the prime negotiating partner of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's, voted to bring the bill forward but only after it was clear that the 60 needed to end a filibuster would not be achieved. Her vote came after she angrily roamed the Senate floor, rolling up text of the legislation and waving it around, smacking it on Sen. Dick Durbin's desk and hitting him on the arm with it. The final tally was 57 Senators in favor of moving forward, 40 opposed.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), a lead proponent of repeal, promised after the vote to introduce stand-alone legislation quickly to repeal the ban. "Reid [told Lieberman] he would bring it up by the end of lame duck," a Reid aide said. "That is all that I know right now. And Reid will cosponsor it."
Lieberman said it would be easier to get 60 votes on a stand-alone bill, listing off Brown, Murkowski and Collins as likely backers. He said he is willing to stay in session until January 4 to finish up legislation.
"It ain't over until it's over," Lieberman said. "We're going to keep fighting until the clock runs out, and as I look at it there's still a lot of time to get this done."
Sens. Brown and Murkowski had previously said they supported repeal of DADT but demanded an "open amendment process" to ensure Republicans can make changes to the defense bill. Reid, in turn, offered Collins 15 amendments -- 10 for Republicans and five for Democrats -- but she countered with a request for four days of floor debate.
Democrats on the floor conferred closely with Manchin, apparently in hopes of changing his vote. If he switched and Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) showed up to vote, Democrats would've gotten to 59, putting even greater pressure on Murkowski, but particularly on Brown, who is up for reelection before a liberal electorate in 2012.
An aide to Reid said that he wasn't immediately aware if the Majority Leader knew that Manchin was going to vote no. The West Virginia Democrat did, however, express his desire to review the issues more fully and was giving off indications that his vote was gettable. "I would say that if he was somehow the 60th vote, I do not think he would have voted the way he did," the aide said.
Reporters in the gallery watched closely for Lincoln, who ultimately arrived a considerable time after the vote ended. "I would like to have been recorded as voting yes," she said to a largely empty chamber. Lincoln, whose two-term career ends at the end of this session, was told that the rules do not allow such a revision. "Had I been here I would have voted yes," she said. (Lieberman said after the vote that Lincoln was in the dental chair as the vote was taking place. Had she been the 60th vote, the process could have been held open.)
Given the brief time left before the Senate ends its session, Reid said there is not enough time to allow for all of the Republicans' requests and proceeded to a cloture vote.
"My colleagues on the other side want more each time," he said. "They say we need to wait and we need as much time as possible to debate the bill -- you can't do both."
During the drawn-out vote, Collins waved a copy of the bill at Reid's empty desk while speaking animatedly with Lieberman and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, both prominent supporters of repeal. She repeatedly pointed to language in the bill in her hand. Eventually, she stood alone at her desk, intently scanning the document. At one point, something jumped out at her and she underlined certain language in pencil, then went looking again for Lieberman and Levin.
Murkowski criticized Reid for shutting down the negotiations and said she was waiting for a "reasonable process."
"I'm sorry that we're at this point but I think we had a path forward and he chose not to do it," Murkowski said. "I don't know whether he didn't want to take it up or what the issue is but he chose to close the door and I think it's most unfortunate."
Levin said on the floor on Thursday there may not be time to "hammer out a final bill before the end of the session" if the Senate does not proceed with the bill this week.
"It's clear that Republicans don't want to hold a vote on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" Reid said. "They want to block a bill on this at all costs, even if it means not passing the defense authorization bill for the first time in 48 years."
The defense authorization bill also includes a number of other provisions, including bonuses for service members and improved health coverage for troops, Reid pointed out. He said the bill is necessary and must move forward.
Collins said she was disappointed with the decision.
"I thought we were extremely close to getting to an agreement yesterday," Collins said after the announcement. "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."
Sam Stein contributed reporting