In a speech on the Senate floor before today's vote on the defense authorization bill, Sen. John McCain railed against Democrats for forcing a vote on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
"November second is only a few days away," McCain said. "And the president of the United States made a commitment to the gay and lesbian community that he would make the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' one of his priorities."
McCain objected not to the vote itself but to its timing; he wants to wait until the military completes a review of the repeal's potential impact on troops. "Whether you agree or disagree with this policy," McCain said, "the Senate should not be forced to make this decision now, before we've heard from our troops."
Leading up to this afternoon's vote to end debate on the defense bill, Democrats are looking a vote or two short. The few Republicans who might be open to voting with Democrats are concerned that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid might limit debate to three amendments: one to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; one to attach to the bill the DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal status for the children of illegal immigrants; and one to stop the Senate's procedural practice of secret holds.
"Why would the majority leader and chairman want to bring up 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' then the DREAM Act, then secret holds, and then bring up the rest of the bill after the elections?" McCain asked. "One can draw the conclusion that this is all about elections, not the well being ... and battle effectiveness of the men and women laying it on the line today."
Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican on the Armed Services Committee who backed the Defense bill in May, has announced that he will not vote for cloture because of the DREAM Act amendment. Sen. Susan Collins, another Armed Services Republican who backed the bill in May, has implied that she would be open to cloture if debate allowed for Republican amendments. Collins's fellow Maine Republican Olympia Snowe has expressed a similar position.
As for McCain's claim that Obama and Senate Democrats are rushing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in order to drum up the gay vote: locating a political motive in Harry Reid's decision to tack the DREAM Act onto the defense bill in the midst of his no-holds-barred electoral battle in Nevada, where Hispanics make up 15 percent of registered voters, would have been easy. Immigration will play a large role this year in drawing voters to the polls in states like Nevada, California, and Arizona, and Reid is not the only politician who's spotlighting it.
But are gay-rights supporters a key swing constituency in the November elections? Will attempting to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" draw new or sometime voters to the polls? The electoral impact of repealing the law may be hard to gauge, but doing so would surely up Obama's standing with the progressive, pro-gay rights community, with whom he's been at odds for much of his first two years. Doing away with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" would fulfill a campaign promise and perhaps energize some progressive voters or donors to Democratic campaigns.
In terms of how the Democrats' parliamentary maneuvering will influence votes in November, however, it seems fair to say that the DREAM Act will have a much more concentrated effect than a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."