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October 23, 2014

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Key votes set for today on DREAM Act, gays in the military

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Nevadans who have been following the debates on the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and passage of the DREAM Act will want to be paying attention early this morning.

The Senate is coming in for a special Saturday session to take two critical votes to long-running, contentious debates over social issues in the morning.

First up is the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented youths enslited in the military or enrolled in college the chance to become U.S. citizens.

Chances for that one to pass are slim in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had maneuvered the DREAM Act out of consideration earlier this week by tabling the issue — a move apparently meant to protect the bill from a political threat made by Senate Republicans to vote against any measure brought up before the debate on taxes and the federal budget were concluded.

With those matters laid to rest — and in ways that seemed to give Republicans a political victory — the road is open but not necessarily clear.

Immigration battles are always difficult, but taking up the DREAM Act alone has proven, in some ways, even more difficult than passing a comprehensive immigration bill. Republicans are loath to let it go forward without enforcement provisions attached — in fact only one, Richard Lugar of Indiana, has publicly said he’ll support it. That won’t be enough even if Democrats hold rank, which they may not.

The House passed the bill last week in a close vote of 212-206.

Then comes the bid to repeal the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on gays serving openly in the military. That one passed the House by a much more convincing margin earlier this week: 250-175.

There was a Republican attempt to scuttle the legislation in the Senate as a trade-off for taking up the START ratification, currently under way, but on the executive calendar, thus allowing Reid to move back and forth between that ongoing debate and bills due for a vote.

Senate sponsors of a standalone measure say they’re confident they have more than 60 votes for the bill, counting all 58 Democrats, plus Republicans Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Scott Brown and Lisa Murkowski in the “yea” column.

“And I think we’ll see a few surprises,” Sen. Joe Lieberman said earlier this week. Lieberman and Collins are presenting the standalone bill.

Reid has filed motions to pave the way for Saturday’s procedural votes, a schedule that’s likely being propelled both by the upcoming Christmas holiday and the personal obligations of his caucus.

With the votes on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act expected to be close, it’s important to have every ‘yes’ vote on board, and come next week, Reid will be down one Democratic senator.

On Monday, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon is scheduled to undergo surgery for prostate cancer that will likely put him in recovery, and out of commission, for the rest of the 111th Congress.

Wyden is supportive of both the DREAM Act and repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and his vote is critical, at least for the former bill.

Few Republicans have been willing to openly support the DREAM Act, and it doesn’t command the full support of Senate Democrats, making the bill a tough battle in Congress.

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