[Photo: Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) talk to Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the first of two days of hearings held Dec. 2 and 3 about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." (Photo by Ward Morrison.)]
Although Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) said today that he was not sure where the negotiations stand between party leaders on Senate consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, he said that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was "respectfully" wrong earlier in the day when he had said that "41 of [his] colleagues" would join him in "not agree[ing] to have this bill go forward."
The NDAA contains an amendment aimed at repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and McCain had further demonstrated his oft-stated opposition to the repeal in the second day of hearings into the Pentagon working group's report about implementing such a repeal. The bill, which needs 60 votes to be debated because of a Republican filibuster threat, failed to meet that threshold in September.
Lieberman told reporters after the hearing that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- who only briefly attended Friday's hearing -- "has said again, notwithstanding the letter that was sent out by the members of the Republican caucus, that so long as she feels there has been a fair process and debate of the defense bill, and it hasn't been cut off prematurely, that she'll vote to bring up the bill."
[UPDATE: Collins said in a statement this afternoon, "After hearing powerful testimony from Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen, and reviewing the results of the Pentagon report, I remain convinced that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy," implemented under President Clinton, should be repealed. And, I agree with Secretary Gates that the issue should be decided by Congress, not the courts."
She predicated her support upon resolution of the tax cut issue, however, saying in the statement, "Once the tax issue is resolved, I have made it clear that if the Majority Leader brings the Defense Authorization bill to the floor with sufficient time allowed for debate and amendments, I would vote to proceed to the bill."]
Within hours of the end of those hearings -- chaired by repeal supporter Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) -- Lieberman gained some support when Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) -- who voted against adding the DADT repeal amendment into the NDAA earlier this year -- issued a statement saying, "Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary's recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed."
It was not clear, however, if Brown would vote to proceed to debate on the NDAA, which is the first hurdle repeal faces in the lame-duck session of Congress now underway.
In addition to Collins, Lieberman said that he had spoken with other Republicans about repeal and that, "It's on that basis that I say that I'm convinced that we have more than 60 votes to take up the bill -- with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- so long as a core group of Republicans are convinced that the Democratic leadership will not jam the bill through, but allow a reasonable time for fair and open debate."
Asked to name the other Republicans with whom he had spoken, Lieberman said, "You have asked, but I am not telling."
Senators will have to tell soon enough, though, if Servicemembers Defense Legal Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis is correct that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will move to reconsider the defense bill "early next week."
[Collins said in her statement, "As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I voted, last May, to include in the Defense Authorization bill language repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, subject to certification by the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that there would not be a negative impact on combat effectiveness and military readiness. It is especially reassuring to learn from the Pentagon report that, after extensive interviews and feedback from service members, nearly 70 percent say that having a gay service member in their unit would have a "positive, mixed, or no effect" on the unit's effectiveness."]