DREAM Act rally

Efforts to add the DREAM Act to the defense authorization bill failed Tuesday when Republicans filibustered the bill. (Mark Samala/ZUMApress.com)

Senate Republicans filibustered the defense authorization bill Tuesday afternoon, ending a push by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass the DREAM Act, which would provide legal status to some undocumented immigrants in exchange for school or military service, and a repeal of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy for homosexuals serving in the military as amendments to the legislation.

The defense authorization bill has been passed for the past 48 consecutive years. It failed to move to the Senate floor today in a 56-43 vote, with no “yea” votes by Republicans.

The main argument marshaled against continuing with the defense bill was that both a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal and the DREAM Act have too little relevance to defense. But both proposals have major implications for those who serve — or wish to serve — in the military. A repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would allow gays and lesbians to serve openly, without fear their sexual orientation would lead to discharge from the military. The DREAM Act would allow illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to earn legal status by serving in the military or attending two years of college, providing what many have said would be a needed boost for military recruitment.

After the filibuster, Reid said he will continue to push for the DREAM Act, which was originally proposed in 2001 by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) — who voted against bringing the defense authorization bill to the floor today. The DREAM Act has come up several times since 2001 but only went to a vote as a standalone bill once, in 2007. Although he did not specify a timeline, Reid said today the act is not dead.

“We’re going to vote on the DREAM Act, it’s just a question of when,” Reid said after the filibuster. “This isn’t the end of this. We’re going to continue to move on.”

The vote was a major disappointment to immigration reform advocates and GLBT rights supporters. Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a statement the senators “who led and supported the filibuster effort should be ashamed.”

Mary Giovagnoli, director of Immigration Policy Center, said the vote showed “a lack of leadership” by Republican senators. “This was clearly putting procedural wrangling and partisan politics over social issues that are clearly something the American public wants action on,” she added.

Democrats needed at least one Republican to vote to move forward with the bill to stop a Republican filibuster. But procedural squabbles deterred Republicans from voting for the legislation, arguing that Reid was denying them the chance to amend the bill.

Reid previously said he would allow only three amendments: a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the DREAM Act; and an amendment to ban the practice of placing “secret holds” on presidential nominees.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeatedly quoted a floor statement by Reid last Thursday, when Reid said he was “willing to work with Republicans on a process that will permit the Senate to consider these matters and complete the bill as soon as possible.”

But Republicans argued the short timetable before a pre-election recess would prevent them from adding enough amendments. Two moderate Republicans who Democrat leaders hoped would vote for moving forward with the bill, Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, decided to vote against cloture for this reason.

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