Rachel Maddow calls out the members of the Senate and the White House for playing political football with Don't Ask Don't Tell and notes that if the White House made a deal for votes in exchange for cloture in the Senate, that deal was broken. She
September 22, 2010

Rachel Maddow calls out the members of the Senate and the White House for playing political football with Don't Ask Don't Tell and notes that if the White House made a deal for votes in exchange for cloture in the Senate, that deal was broken. She asked "What's next?" I agree and think that the White House should tell the military to quit enforcing the provision if Republicans were not going to make good on their promise to vote against its repeal.

This is our next civil rights battle and public opinion as she notes is not on the side of the Republicans or the obstructionist Democrats who voted with them. I'm as astounded as is Rachel as to why they're running from this issue when you've got support from all sides and huge majorities of Democrats that want to see this repealed. It's mind boggling trying to figure out who they think they're catering to and why. It might be understandable if it were smart politics, but it's not.

MADDOW: Today in the United States Senate, language in the defense authorization bill that would let the military repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” fell to defeat.

Senate Republicans, in fact, took the historic step of filibustering the entire defense authorization bill in order to maintain the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. They would not even allow debate on the defense bill because it included that language to let the military repeal its own policy on keeping gay people out of the military.

And so, we don‘t have a bill to fund the military this year, at least so far. And the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy lives.

What happens next? Well, here‘s a clue. When I interviewed Vice President Joe Biden less than a week ago, I asked him why if the administration was so opposed to “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” why were they still implementing it? Why were they still discharging openly gay members of the U.S. military now that Barack Obama is commander-in-chief? Why not at least put that on hold while the military studies getting rid of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”?

Here is how Vice President Biden responded.


MADDOW: The policy under such intense scrutiny, that study underway at the Defense Department, is progress being made both in the courts and politically, why not suspend the discharges of people under the policy now pending that Defense Department review? Why keep kicking people out now while all of this movement is happening toward ending the policy?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because that is the compromise we basically had to make to get the votes to finally repeal it. In other words, everybody is looking for—in my view, if I could just wave a wand, it would just be flat repeal. No one else would be able to suspend it. And everyone suspended would be able to come back if they wanted to.

But the truth of the matter is, we had to build a consensus for this, working very hard on the telephone, calling people, telling them—and everybody is looking for the orderly elimination of this law. I would prefer it not be orderly. I would prefer it just end, boom, done. But that‘s why that hasn‘t happened.


MADDOW: “That‘s why that hasn‘t happened. We had to build a consensus for this,” he says. “We had to continue implementing ‘don‘t ask, don‘t tell‘ in order to get the votes we needed to repeal it.”

Hey, you know what? Even though you may have made that deal, you didn‘t get the votes to repeal it. I don‘t know who promised that, who promised that if the White House just keeps discharging people right all along, says they‘re opposed to the policy, that they keep kicking people out anyway—I don‘t know who promised that if the White House just keeps kicking people out, that will allow the policy to be repealed. But that didn‘t happen today.

If this was a political deal, if this was a political compromise, that sort of thing involves two parties negotiating in good faith about what they‘re going to do. The other side in this case did not hold up their end of the bargain, if indeed that was the bargain.

So, if you‘re the White House, are you still going to hold up your end of this broken bargain? Or are you going to do what you say you really want to do?


BIDEN: I would prefer it not be orderly. I would prefer it just end, boom, done.


MADDOW: Boom, done. That could happen. Will it?

Lots to say and lots to find out about that tonight and in days ahead.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of nonsense explanations that have been put forth already purporting to explain what happened today in the Senate. Senate Republicans, for example, initially tried to explain away their vote by saying, “We don‘t like amendments to the defense authorization bill that aren‘t specifically about defense issues.”


SEN. SCOTT BROWN ®, MASSACHUSETTS: The majority party, I feel, is using our men and women in uniform as a tactic to pass politically expedient legislation entirely unrelated to the defense authorization. It is in my view not appropriate.


MADDOW: Amendments to the defense bill should just be about defense.

That‘s why Republicans said they were blocking this bill today.

That‘s not why they blocked this bill. What you see here—do we have that scroll?

Scrolling before you on the screen right now—these are all amendments that Republicans have attached to defense authorization bills just in the past few years: banning Internet gambling, opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to oil drilling, allowing concealed weapons to be carried across state lines, increasing fines for broadcasting indecent material on television—oh, the humanity—toughening up campaign finance regulations. All of these things have been attached by Republicans to defense authorization bills in the past.

Do any of them sound like they have anything at all to do with funding the U.S. military? No, they do not.

Today, Republicans objected to the potential of the DREAM Act, an immigration bill being attached to the defense authorization bill.

But three years ago, it was Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett who tried to attach the very same DREAM Act to this very same bill -- thus, disproving the fake objection from Republicans today that this is somehow about the purity of the defense bill. That the defense bill never has anything non-germane attached to it.

Republicans also tried to say that what happened today was because they wanted to be able to offer more amendments to the defense bill on their own side. That was the argument from Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She said she‘s all for getting rid of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, but she voted to filibuster today because Republicans have a lot of amendments they want to put forward, and Democrats wouldn‘t allow Republicans to amend the bill.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE: I will defend the right of my colleagues to offer amendments on this issue and other issues that are being brought up. The majority leader apparently intends to shut down the debate and exclude Republicans from offering a number of amendments.


MADDOW: So, that‘s also why Republicans say they blocked this bill today. But that‘s not actually why they blocked it.

Here is Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid on the floor of the Senate saying he would allow Republican amendments to this bill.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: There are a number of amendments that I think need to be considered on it initially. And I‘ve stated what those would be more than likely. I‘ve also, in my conversations with my Republican friends—they‘ve indicated that they want likely more than just a motion to strike the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” that‘s in the base of the bill. I said that‘s fine.


MADDOW: I said that‘s fine. That was last Thursday. Senator Reid‘s office confirming to us today that his insistence was that Democrats get their amendments through, and then they would consider Republican amendments.

This whole argument that Republicans weren‘t being allowed to amend the bill—it‘s not true. It is made up. The technical term for that is malarkey.

John McCain and Republicans also said today that this was about deferring to the military, that Congress shouldn‘t change the policy on gay people serving openly before the military itself has a chance to study it.


MCCAIN: Why are we now trying to jam this thing through without the survey being completed and without a proper assessment of its impact? Let us hear from the men and women who are serving in the military.


MADDOW: Strike three. That‘s also why Republicans say they blocked this bill today, but that‘s not actually why they blocked it. The language in the bill that Republicans filibustered today is not actually a repeal of the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy. The language would allow the military to sign off on a repeal if their existing current ongoing study of it so indicated.

When Bill Clinton instituted this policy in the early 1990s, Congress wrote it into law. What this amendment does is say, if the military studies it and decides they can get rid of the policy safely, this would take the law off the books, essentially, at the military‘s instruction.

Republicans say this bill didn‘t sufficiently defer to the military, and that‘s why they‘re blocking it. That is not why they blocked it. The bill put the whole question in the military‘s hands. It was not about that.

It‘s also not about non-germane amendments being attached to bill.

It‘s not about Republicans wanting to add their own amendments to the bill and being prevented from doing so.

Republicans say those are all of the reasons why they blocked this bill today. But none of those are the reason why‘s they did it, demonstrably.

The defense authorization bill has passed the House and the Senate 48 years in a row now, ever since 1962. Today, Republicans did a historic thing. They chose to block funding for the entire U.S. military, and they did it not because of any of that window dressing procedural stuff they are trying to hide behind today. They did it because they want to keep this anti-gay policy in place.

This is about the gays. They tried to dress it up as being about all these other things, all these process things. It‘s not about any of those other things. It is about the gays.

And sometimes that manages to bleed through all the nonsense.


SEN. JAMES INHOFE ®, OKLAHOMA: All of America is watching, and they don‘t think that the defense authorization bill in times of war would—is the appropriate thing to do to advance a far-left liberal agenda. What is that liberal agenda? The liberal agenda is to have open gays serving in the military.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA: I just think that‘s dangerous to say this is not going to have a corrosive impact on the men and women in the military, is a mistake. And it won‘t be able to be passed next year, maybe after the American people have sent some new senators to this Senate. Maybe then it won‘t be so popular and have so much support.


MADDOW: Senators, your culture war is showing.

So, what happens next? Well, President Obama‘s on record—he‘s on tape promising to end “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” this year in 2010.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.


MADDOW: This year, President Obama said back in January, it is a promise that he has made in public. It is a promise that he has also made in private. It is a private promise that he made to people whose lives are being ruined by this policy right now while he is still commander-in-chief.


LT. COL. VICTOR FEHRENBACH, FACES DISCHARGE UNDER DADT: I basically told him that I am currently being discharged under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” And I told him the situation for me was urgent and I needed his help. He looked me right in the eye and he said, we‘re going to get this done.


MADDOW: We are going to get this done.

Not to get craven here, but here is the polling that‘s been done about “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” recently. Overall, 75 percent of American says repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Look at the number among Republicans -- 64 percent of Republicans support repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Seventy-five percent of independents. And look at the number among Democrats, 80 percent say repeal it.

“A,” this is a promise that President Obama has made.

“B,” Republicans are totally caught with their pants down on this.

They are on the wrong side of public opinion on this by a mile.

And, C, Democrats do have this little problem with the enthusiasm of their base in this election season.

The whole reason the White House says it won‘t suspend—it wouldn‘t suspend the implementation of this policy, that it wouldn‘t stop kicking people out while the military study on this is still pending is because they say they agreed not to as part of the political deal. They gave that up in exchange for enough votes in the Senate to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.” Those votes did not turn up today when they were supposed to. Whoever Democrats negotiated with did not keep up their end of the bargain.

The White House could decide right now, tonight, to stop implementation of this policy pending the military‘s review.

The right wants a culture war against gay people? That‘s a war that in 2010 anti-gay politicians lose and pro-civil rights politicians win.

Does the White House leave that on the table and walk away? Or do they try to win? Do they try to do well politically by doing what they say is right for the country? Do they do it? What happens next?

Can you help us out?

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