Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 | 6:55 p.m.
Republicans may not like it, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he’s going to go ahead with bills to repeal a ban on gays serving openly in the military and provide undocumented college students and military recruits a chance to become American citizens.
In September, Reid attempted to use the annual defense authorization bill as a vehicle to pass both a repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that prevents gays from serving openly in the military, and the DREAM Act, which puts qualifying young undocumented adults who were brought to the country as children on a pathway to citizenship.
The must-pass measure to fund the military will serve once again as the backbone piece of legislation for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal, while the DREAM Act will be presented on its own for an up-or-down vote.
Most Republicans are expected to resist the measures.
GOP leaders criticized Reid in September for weighing down the defense authorization bill with the measures, accusing him of bringing them up only to make a play to bring out his base for the 2010 midterms.
Led by a vocal John McCain, members of the GOP staged a successful procedural filibuster, blocking the measure from even coming to the floor.
It’s not clear how many Republicans might vote differently now that pre-election tensions have largely passed. Maine Republican Susan Collins, for instance, stated that she would support a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell but refused to give Reid her vote because she thought he was unfairly blocking out Republican input to make a political play.
Collins would have been the 60th vote necessary to begin work on the bill earlier this fall.
But passing measures like the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and DREAM Act will be one vote harder after Thanksgiving than they would have been before. That’s when Mark Kirk is expected to take over Obama’s former Illinois Senate seat, which has been occupied by Democrat Roland Burris since 2009.
That means Reid will need at least two Republicans to cross over and that’s if his party stays in line.
While support for a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is widespread in the Democratic Party, and apparently the military as well — leaked results of an all-military survey showed more 70 percent of respondents thought gays serving openly would not affect them — that’s not the case with immigration matters.
For several years, the DREAM Act has been a critical part of comprehensive immigration overhaul. But with little energy left in Congress to tackle such a massive bill, immigration advocates had settled on the DREAM Act as their best bet for now.
Immigration doesn’t split neatly along party lines. While Democrats are more supportive than Republicans are of changes to the laws that favor immigrant inclusion, as opposed to just exclusionary enforcement, they aren’t of one mind about it. Many sitting Democrats voted against immigration reform the last time it came up for a true referendum in 2007.
The fact that Reid is letting the DREAM Act go ahead as a standalone bill has some supporters nervous that there may not be enough support in the Senate to clear the all-but-give 60-vote filibuster-proof hurdle such a bill will first have to clear before it can be brought up for debate on the floor.
On Tuesday, Congressional Hispanic Caucus leaders and staunch immigration advocates Nydia Velasquez and Luis Gutierrez met with President Obama about passing the DREAM Act, and said the president had offered to lend his support by calling lawmakers to press them to support the measure.
Obama had promised during his presidential campaign to address immigration reform in his first year, but that quickly took a backseat to more pressing crises in the areas of housing, unemployment and failing markets, and the administration’s focus on health care.
A comprehensive immigration overhaul — at least one generally resembling the mix of enforcement and legal-status granting activities that have comprised recent iterations of comprehensive bills — is likely to be all but impossible to get through Congress once Republicans take control of the House.