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Fray between 'Don't Ask' repeal allies gets nasty

From NBC's Ken Strickland
The fight to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell is getting a bit nasty between the Senate offices of Majority Leader Harry Reid, Joe Lieberman and Republican Susan Collins, all of whom support ending the ban.

It's gotten so contentious that Lieberman released a written statement defending Collins against "baseless allegations" from Democratic aides that Collins is blocking the bill.

"Senator Collins has been working in good faith to achieve an agreement on the process to move forward with the defense bill that contains the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'" he said.

Collins received a call from the president yesterday on the matter, according to sources with knowledge about the conversation.

In remarks to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Lieberman called on Reid not to hold a vote to bring the bill to the floor this evening -- which Reid indicated was "likely" earlier today -- until Collins and Reid reach an agreement.

What's the deal?

While Collins strongly supports repeal, she is reluctant to bring the larger defense bill that includes the DADT provision to the floor without being given assurances that there is a "fair and open" process. In other words, she wants to make sure that senators have to opportunities to debate and vote on several amendments to the sweeping legislation.

Lieberman says he and Collins have been working with Reid's office to negotiate an agreement to bring the bill to the floor in the fast-waning days of the session.

As details of the talks have emerged, however, it's evident that those negotiations haven't been going well.

Democratic aides say Reid has made a reasonable offer that Collins won't accept: 15 amendments, 17 hours of debate, and room to negotiate more.

Sources close to Collins dispute that claim, suggesting that the Maine senator's discussion with Reid was not that cut and dry.

And Lieberman says the Democrats blaming Collins don't know what they're talking about.

"I categorically reject reports by uninformed staffers who have suggested" Collins is not working in 'good faith,'" Lieberman said. "I call on those responsible for such baseless allegations to stop immediately and instead work to get to an agreement to bring this critical bill to the floor for Senate action."

Lieberman says if an agreement can be reached to get the defense bill on the floor, he's confident the votes are there to repeal the ban.

"It is now more clear than ever that we have 60 or more votes in support of repealing 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' so it is vitally important to reach agreement on the right process to move forward," he said in his statement.

Reaching a so-called "time agreement" with Collins and Lieberman isn't Reid's only obstacle to getting the bill to the floor. Last week, Republicans told Reid in a letter that they are collectively committed to blocking any bill from coming to the floor that doesn't address extension of the Bush tax cuts or funding of the government.

Reid said earlier Wednesday it was "likely" he would call for a vote to bring the defense bill to the floor tonight. That would happen after series of votes currently scheduled to begin at 4pm ET.