ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports:
Senate Democrats are afraid that Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, will throw a wrench into the chances of passing a repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy due to her procedural demands, a Senate Democratic aide told ABC News today.
Collins, the aide said, is being “inflexible” in her demands for “unlimited debate” on the annual defense authorization bill that includes the repeal. Democrats have recently launched a full-court press to win her support since she is seen as their best hope of getting to the 60 votes needed to break through the GOP filibuster. President Obama has spoken to her, the aide said, and so has Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. When Reid talked to her last Friday and again this morning, Collins emphasized that the amendment process should be similar to the ones used in the past, according to Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. During the past five years the Senate has spent an average of 11 days on the defense authorization bill and held an average of 14 votes on amendments, Collins told Reid during these meetings.
But so far the talks have made no headway in ending the stalemate. Reid is prepared to allow for up to 15 amendments – 10 Republican and five Democratic – but that has not been enough to win Collins’ support, the Democratic aide said. The aide speculated that Collins does not want to break with her party on this issue and would prefer to simply run out the clock until the end of the lame-duck session.
However another source familiar with the talks denied that Reid has made any formal offers.
Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut today stood up for Collins, saying that she has been “working in good faith” to move forward on the bill and it is “vitally important” that an agreement be reached on the procedural path because Democrats now have the 60 votes in support of the repeal.
“Sen. Collins has been working in good faith to achieve an agreement on the process to move forward with the defense bill that contains the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Lieberman said in a statement. “I categorically reject reports by uninformed staffers who have suggested otherwise. As she always does, Sen. Collins is working diligently and across party lines to find solutions to the challenges that confront our country. I call on those responsible for such baseless allegations to stop immediately and instead work to get to an agreement to bring this critical bill to the floor for Senate action.”
“We are making progress toward an agreement to move forward on the Defense Bill that includes the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and I remain confident that we can reach an agreement, which is necessary before any vote on the motion to reconsider is taken,” Lieberman continued. “I am working closely with Senator Reid and Senator Collins and other members who want to reach a fair and reasonable agreement to move the Defense Authorization Bill that is so essential to the needs of our troops, veterans, and their families. It is now more clear than ever that we have 60 or more votes in support of repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, so it is vitally important to reach agreement on the right process to move forward.”
While Democrats will continue to push for Collins’ support, other Republicans such as Lindsey Graham, R-SC, argue that there is simply not enough time left before the holidays to consider the bill.
“The defense authorization bill is a complicated piece of legislation with four or five major contentious points. Traditionally we’ve had 30, 40, 50 votes on the bill,” Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill this morning. “I don’t see how in the world you can give it the time and attention it deserves, whether it be Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, abortions in military hospitals, Gitmo… I just think it doesn’t seem like a good idea to bring it up with limited time.”