"I'm going to file cloture on it tonight."
With those words, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that there will be a cloture vote on the stand-alone "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal bill. And, in what had been the topic of debate all Thursday, Reid has apparently taken the path urged by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and repeal advocates to get to the vote as soon as possible.
The good news for repeal supporters came on the heels of a good day for supporters of ending the 1993 law banning open gay, lesbian and bisexual military service -- with more Republicans appearing to line up in support of repeal -- and the day after the House passed the stand-alone bill.
The Thursday evening move, though, came only after a loss by the Majority Leader, when he pulled the omnibus spending bill after the Republicans appeared to be coalescing in opposition. As reported by The Hill, "Reid said he had the backing of nine Republicans on the measure but they defected, leaving the measure short of the support needed to move forward. He said he would work with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on a bill that can pass the chamber before time runs out Saturday."
With the omnibus bill pulled, though, Reid had time in the lame-duck Senate schedule. So, tonight, he filed cloture for both the DADT repeal measure, as well as the DREAM Act. The House passed the DREAM Act this past week and passed the stand-alone DADT repeal bill on Wednesday. The DREAM Act vote is to come, Reid said this evening, "fairly early" on Saturday, and the DADT repeal vote is to follow.
Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese -- who earlier in the day had publicly sought for Reid to schedule the repeal vote before Christmas -- said in a statement, "We are gratified that the Majority Leader has scheduled the cloture vote on the DADT repeal bill for Saturday. It's time that senators vote their consciences and move our military and our country forward."
The DADT repeal measure passed by the House on Dec. 15 initially had been passed as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act in the Senate Armed Services Committee and the full House. A motion to proceed to debate on that bill failed on Dec. 9 because it only received 57 of the required 60 votes. Because of the process used for bringing the House-passed stand-alone repeal bill, the initial motion that stopped the NDAA this past week is not needed for the stand-alone bill.
The cloture invoked by Reid tonight is for the bill itself. A successful vote of 60 senators will signal a limited time remaining for debate, at which point a simple majority of senators will be required to pass the bill and send it to President Barack Obama's desk for passage. Additionally, because of the way in which Reid chose to bring the bill to the floor, there will not be any amendments -- which, because of the late time in the session, effectively would kill the bill.
Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson said in a statement, "We are grateful to Majority Leader Reid for following through on his promise to schedule a vote on 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' during the lame duck session, and we are relieved that he has now committed to doing so well before Christmas."
Looking to the vote, Solmonese echoed comments made repeatedly by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying, "This has always been an issue of integrity for our military and the brave gay and lesbian service members who serve our country every day. America is ready for a vote and there's no need for anymore waiting."
As for that vote, the count was looking good by this evening. Of the 58 Democrats, the only whose vote appears to be in question is Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who was the sole Democrat who voted against the NDAA motion to proceed on Dec. 9.
Although Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) had not voted for the NDAA motion, she also had not voted against it. Later, it was found that she had been at the dentist at the time of the debate. This week, she signed on as a co-sponsor of the stand-alone repeal bill sponsored by Lieberman.
The final Democratic question came earlier today, when it was announced that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been diagnosed with cancer and has surgery scheduled for Monday. This evening, however, it was reported that he would be present for the Saturday votes.
As for the Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is the lead co-sponsor of the bill.
That -- absent Manchin's vote -- would still leave repeal supporters with only 58 votes. This morning, however, a spokesperson for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) told ABC News, "Sen. Brown accepts the Pentagon's recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed. If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it." So too will Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), whose office confirmed her support for the stand-alone bill to ABC News.
That, if all present and voting, would be the 60 necessary votes. Plus, Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) has announced general support for repeal without specifically endorsing the stand-alone bill and the office of Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) has indicated that he is "sympathetic" to repeal.
Of other potential Republican votes for repeal, GOProud board chairman Christopher Barron told Metro Weekly tonight, "We are working some folks people would expect and some folks people wouldn't expect."
Although he wouldn't name names, among the potential pick-up votes for repeal named by others (after those already mentioned) are five retiring senators: Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah); Kit Bond (R-Mo.); Judd Gregg (R-N.H.); George LeMieux (R-Fla.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Of those, Voinovich -- who has split with his party on notable occasions in the past -- is the most likely supporter. The other two names mentioned as possible "gets" for repeal are the newest senator, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), whose staff has suggested that he could be supportive of repeal.
Barron said of GOProud's efforts, "We are enlisting some friends and allies with close relationships to the target members to weigh in directly. Honestly, at this point it's direct member contact that is going to be key for in-play votes."
Barron added, "We believe the Toomey announcement has the potential of prying some votes free," referring to a statement earlier today from Senator-elect Toomey (R-Pa.) announcing that he would support a stand-alone repeal bill.
Echoing that, Log Cabin Republicans executive director Clarke Cooper earlier told Metro Weekly that, in addition to the three (Collins, Brown and Murkowski), there are as many as nine other Republicans who could potentially be supportive of repeal.
On Saturday, Dec. 18, potential will be come actual, when the cloture vote -- likely the last meaninglful opportunity for legislative DADT repeal -- is called.
The Palm Center's director, Aaron Belkin, minced no words in a statement tonight about the coming vote.
"As Senators consider the forthcoming vote on the stand-alone 'don't ask, don't tell' repeal bill, what matters most is the reality that prejudice is the only justification left for a vote against repeal," he said. "The Pentagon's own research supplements more than twenty studies that show allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly does not undermine military readiness, and that fears about hypothetical problems are groundless."
Belkin concluded, "Those who reject prejudice will vote to repeal 'don't ask, don't tell,' and those who embrace prejudice will vote to continue this policy."
[Slightly updated on Friday to reflect the full range of Republican senators mentioned as possible repeal votes. -Chris]