Lieberman: We Have Votes to Repeal "Don't Ask" - But Need Time

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., during Senate's debate of Iraq spending bill, April 26, 2007. CBS

Sen. Joe Lieberman
CBS

In an interview on MSNBC today, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said that passing a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" before the end of 2010 is possible - but only if Congressional leadership gave the Senate some time to work it out.

"I'm convinced we have more than the necessary 60 votes," said Lieberman, a leading proponent of eliminating the policy that bars openly gay Americans from serving in the military. "The only question is whether the leadership gives us the time to do this."

Democrats have been pushing hard to get a repeal of the controversial policy passed through Congress before the end of the 2010 session, anticipating a decidedly more conservative Congress in 2011 - and significantly diminished support for the effort.

Yesterday, the Pentagon released a lengthy report on the potential impact of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" - the findings of which indicated that, overall, allowing gays to serve openly in the military would not have negative long-term consequences. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, have both backed the findings of the support and declared their support for eliminating the policy.

Lieberman said that several Republicans are willing to break with the party line to vote for a repeal of "Don't Ask" - although he conceded that he had not yet been able to persuade his friend former presidential nominee John McCain on the matter.

"I don't know if I can say I've been lobbying my friend John McCain, I've been talking to him," Lieberman told MSNBC. "I can say that I'm not making progress in my efforts with Senator McCain. But I believe we have more than 60 Senators, including a good solid handful of Republicans who are prepared to vote to take up the Armed Services bill, which already has within it the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

"The real challenge here is the clock," Lieberman continued. "Will we take the time to have the debate, not just on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" but on the underlining Defense Authorization bill. And I can tell you that some of the Republicans who want to be for this, also want to make sure that Senator Reid offers them a fair amendment process."

Complicating the effort is a vow from all 42 Republicans Senators to block any legislation not related to tax cuts and government spending until those matters are resolved.

Lawmakers are currently engaged in negotiations regarding extending the Bush-era tax cuts, but so far neither side has indicated a willingness to budge on whether to extend the cuts for high earners: Republicans have demanded an extension of the cuts for all Americans, while President Obama has said repeatedly that continuing the tax cuts on income over $200,000 for individuals or $250,000 for couples would be "irresponsible" given the current economic recession.

While Democrats and Republicans work on what could be a difficult and time-consuming negotiations on the issue, issues like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the START treaty, and the DREAM Act are on hold. An amendment process on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" alone could eat up two weeks of Senate time - and there is precious little time left for the current Congress to act.


Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for CBSNews.com. You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.

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