Breaking: Brown to back DADT repeal

ABC News reports that Scott Brown has announced that he will support a stand-alone repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” ending the expulsion of gay and lesbian troops from the military.  Brown’s decision gives Harry Reid 61 votes, enough to pass a cloture vote for the policy, and one final hurrah for the Democratic-controlled 111th Session — if he can fit it into the schedule:

Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown today voiced his support for a stand-alone repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, bringing the bill one vote over the 60-vote threshold that it will need to reach if and when the Senate votes on the measure in the coming weeks.

“Sen. Brown accepts the Pentagon’s recommendation to repeal the policy after proper preparations have been completed. If and when a clean repeal bill comes up for a vote, he will support it,” said Brown spokesperson Gail Gitcho.

Brown’s backing means that – on paper – supporters of the repeal have61 senators in favor of the bill. On Wednesday Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lisa Murkowski both announced their support for the stand-alone repeal. The House passed the clean repeal on Wednesday and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has vowed to bring it to a vote in the Senate before the end of the year.

However, Reid has warned that bringing the bill to a vote in the Senate is not an issue of support, but rather of time. With just over a week before Christmas, the Senate is only now kicking off debate on the START nuclear treaty and a massive $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. It will likely be early next week before the Senate wraps up work on those two measures – and numerous GOP senators have voiced stern opposition to both bills, preferring instead to fund the government into early next year and go home for the holidays. That leaves little time for the Senate to pass the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal.

Brown voted against the military appropriations bill that contained a DADT repeal last week, objecting to a jam-down of a massive spending bill without sufficient debate or amendment opportunities.  Two other Republicans that support a repeal, Olympia Snowe and Lisa Murkowski, voted no on the same grounds.  A stand-alone bill will avoid those issues and allow the three to switch votes and support repeal, a position publicly held or at least considered by all three prior to the lame-duck session.

The Senate has already passed the tax deal, which was the line drawn in the sand by the GOP at the start of the post-midterm session.  Brown can therefore vote for cloture on this measure without violating the earlier pledge, even if Congress hasn’t addressed the budget with a shutdown date rapidly approaching.  The GOP wants a continuing resolution anyway rather than an omnibus spending bill completing the FY2011 budget.

Reid, though, has already started debate on START, and still has to handle the budget this week as well.  He’s trying to double-track the two efforts, but Jim DeMint has threatened to obstruct if Reid tries a jam-down on START.  If DADT doesn’t come up in this session, it will have to be passed again in a Republican House after January, and that may be a problem with the GOP holding a 48-seat majority in the lower chamber.  Still, the threat of court action that would immediately impose a repeal rather than an orderly transition may move John Boehner to allow a vote without whipping the caucus early in the next session.