WASHINGTON -- The White House on Friday raised the tantalizing specter of pushing a stand-alone repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell through the Congress in a manner that would avoid a Senate filibuster.
Speaking the day after a defense authorization bill carrying a DADT repeal failed to pass the Senate by a 57-40 vote, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs affirmed that the president would support efforts, championed by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), to consider overturning the ban on gays in the military alone. Encouraging repeal proponents who, at this juncture, cling to hope's last threads, Gibbs suggested that this latest vehicle had better chance of passage than those prior, owing to a procedural path that could avoid a 60-vote minimum.
"The president remains committed to seeing this repeal done before Congress leaves town this year," Gibbs said at an off-camera briefing. "[There were] 57 votes yesterday, and frankly, you can see how you get even more. And I think there could be a legislative vehicle that starts in the House as a stand alone and withstands procedural hurdles and puts the Senate on the record on an up or down vote for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell."
So there are ways to avoid the filibuster? "I think there are ways," Gibbs replied.
Those ways, however, aren't entirely clear. The White House did not immediately return follow-up requests for clarification, and sources on the Hill sounded skeptical when pressed.
"It's not quite true," said a leadership aide. "The House would pass and send it over as a message from the House. It would still be subject to a filibuster on the tail end, however."
If the 60-vote threshold must indeed be met, the White House remained confident that it could be. But the straightforward math is not entirely clear. Democrats have one clear-cut GOP vote, in the form of the bill's co-sponsor: Collins. But it would likely need at least two more for cloture.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) voted no on the defense authorization bill on Thursday night, leaving Democrats at 57. And while leadership aides initially thought they could get his vote were he the deciding member, their hopes deflated shortly thereafter. Manchin's office didn't return request for comment, but a top Senate aide said simply putting DADT repeal in one bill was "not going to change his vote," though the aide added, "I think the only one who could make the difference in this is the White House."
"People clearly knew where he was because it was pretty obvious unless you weren't paying attention," the aide said. "Look at what he said in some of the interviews he did with the West Virginia press. Look at what he said in the hearings..."