WASHINGTON — In a blaze of unusual bipartisan fury, a military policy bill that would repeal the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly in the military stalled in the Senate on Thursday, severely diminishing the chances of ending the Clinton-era policy this year.
On a vote of 57 to 40, Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, found himself 3 votes short of the 60 needed to clear a procedural hurdle that would have opened the way for passage of the measure.
While Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill, said they would introduce a stand-alone measure to repeal the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, such an effort seems to have limited prospects this year.
“I’m sad to say I think the chances are very slim for getting it through,” Collins acknowledged in an interview after the vote.
The stalemate suggested that a key policy goal of President Barack Obama, and yet another centerpiece of his 2008 campaign, may elude him.
“I am extremely disappointed that yet another filibuster has prevented the Senate from moving forward with the National Defense Authorization Act,” Obama said in a statement after the Senate defeat. “Despite having the bipartisan support of a clear majority of senators, a minority of senators are standing in the way of the funding upon which our troops, veterans and military families depend.”
After the vote, Reid and the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, consulted on their options, officials said, discussing an approach where the House could pass legislation strictly focused on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and send it to the Senate for expedited action.
“We’re going to keep up the fight,” Lieberman said at a news conference shortly after the vote. “But we’re not kidding ourselves. This is not going to be easy.”
As a result of the filibuster, Congress faced the prospect of failing to pass a major Pentagon policy measure for the first time in nearly 50 years, tying up a pay raise for the military and other benefit improvements.
Oddly, instead of the usual dynamic of Republican versus Democrat on a bill doomed to fail, the tangle Thursday was between a Democrat and a Republican over how to proceed with a rare piece of legislation that enjoyed fragile bipartisan support.
Reid, after months of back and forth discussions with Republicans whom he was trying to lure to his side with promises of amendments, called suddenly for a procedural vote, knowing it would surely fail. Collins, with whom he had been haggling, told Reid she needed more time and concessions to bring her Republican colleagues on board.
Midday Thursday, before a nearly empty chamber, Reid began his sales pitch for the bill, explaining why he was bringing it to a vote instead of negotiating further with his colleagues. “Discrimination has never served America very well,” he said.