Today, the Senate has taken up the defense-authorization bill, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has padded with two amendments -- a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act. This is of course meant to appease the gay and Latino communities, which, over the past year, have assailed the Obama administration for failing to fulfill campaign promises to repeal the ban on gays in the military and pass comprehensive immigration reform.
The question -- the perennial one it now seems -- is whether the defense bill can make it to the floor for a vote with these amendments, which requires a supermajority to break a Republican filibuster. The cloture vote is scheduled for 2:30 today. The conventional wisdom is that the DADT repeal will be much easier -- though by no means easy -- to push through given that 80 percent of Americans now favor repeal and moderate Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have indicated they were open to ending the ban.
Moderate turned wingnut John McCain is leading the charge against the repeal, arguing that the military needs to complete its study of how repealing the ban would affect "military readiness" before the Senate votes on it. To be clear, the Pentagon already spent $1.3 million in 1993 on a study to do just that (it found that allowing gays to serve openly would not harm military readiness). In any event, the "repeal" is not really a repeal; it would grant the president the authority to repeal DADT if the military's internal investigations certified it would not affect them negatively. DADT actually shows less deference to the military; instead of allowing the executive branch to act on its own policy recommendations, DADT requires the armed forces to root out gays.
The more controversial DREAM Act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented students and members of the military who were brought to the U.S. by their parents, is less likely to pass, especially now that the Republican rank and file has made repealing birthright citizenship one of its causes. I think critics are right that Reid might be including the act to curry favor with Latino voters back home, but I also think it's a good move for Democrats. Over the past six months or so, journalists, and immigrant-rights and Latino activists I've spoken to have shifted the target of their anger from Obama to the Republican establishment. Many in the Latino community have been disappointed with the president for failing to deliver on a a campaign promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform in his first year. But with Republicans calling for an end to birthright citizenship and Arizona's draconian immigration-enforcement law, it's become increasingly clear that the GOP is not only blocking reform but has made the Latino community a target of attack. As I've argued before, racist rants about Latinos from prominent Republicans can only be good for Democrats.
We'll be keeping TAP readers abreast of the proceedings today, but you can watch them live here.
Also check out our recent coverage of "don't ask, don't tell" and the DREAM Act below:
"A Piece of the DREAM," Renée Feltz
"Obama Is an Immigration Hawk," Adam Serwer
"Bigotry Boot Camp," Gabriel Arana
"It's Not You; It's Me," Paul Waldman
-- Gabriel Arana
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