Don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t do anything at all in the Senate

Just in case you need more evidence of the paralysis gripping Capitol Hill, consider yesterday’s successful effort by Senate Republicans to block debate on legislation repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay soldiers.

And the threatened filibuster wasn’t even on a vote on the bill itself; instead, GOP lawmakers effectively prevented it from even being discussed.

As the New York Times pointed out today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Defense Secretary and President Obama all favor repeal, but Senate Republicans, arguing that it shouldn’t have been attached to a critical defense authorization bill, unanimously supported blocking debate, and enough Democrats joined them to ensure a filibuster could be sustained.

Some of the GOP “no” votes may, indeed, have been based on objections to tacking key Democratic priorities onto the defense bill – but it’s a technique the Republicans have also been happy to use through the years, so the excuse sounds a little thin.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the only Orthodox Jew in the Senate, said the “don’t ask” policy is “un-American. It’s inconsistent with our best values of equal opportunity, who can get the job done, not what your private life is about.”

The Reform movement, which has been a leading support of gay rights, reacted angrily.

“This action is troubling on at least three levels,” said Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

On the moral dimension, the vote “signals that we’re prepared to discriminate against people in a fundamental way based on their sexual orientation,” he said. “On a practical level, it’s troubling that we are prepared to turn away people from our military who want to serve and who are serving well. So it’s wasteful.”

And the action points to a Senate in which “it’s virtually impossible to do anything,” Pelavin said. They’re even filibustering bringing issues up for debate.”

President Obama can act to repeal the policy, Pelavin said, and the Reform movement will urge him to do so after he receives a report from the military leadership on “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

Also weighing in: the National Council of Jewish Women.  NCJW president Nancy Ratzan said this: "The Senate prides itself on being one of the world‘s great deliberative bodies. This vote was not its finest hour. Senators will have another chance to do the right thing on these issues before the end of the year. We strongly urge them to take it. NCJW will continue to champion this critical legislation.”

The Senate action also prevented consideration of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) act, which would grant conditional permanent resident status to undocumented minors who serve in the US military or complete a college degree, the NCJW leader said. "The DREAM Act would allow those brought here as children, many of whom know no other home, to live without fear of deportation in return for their contributions to our defense and to our society. It is a small but important step toward reform of our outmoded immigration laws."

HIAS, the leading Jewish immigration and refugee group, also expressed disappointment that consideration of the DREAM act, which the group called "a sensible and humane response to the needs of vulnerable young immigrant students and the communities in which they live," was blocked.

But with critical congressional midterms fast approaching, illegal immigration and gay rights are issues that are sending a lot of Democrats running for cover.



About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.