CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin missed major votes on controversial issues Saturday, saying he couldn't skip a family Christmas gathering.
The freshman West Virginia Democrat did not vote on a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which bans gays from openly serving in the military. The Senate voted Saturday to lift the ban, and sent legislation reversing the 17-year-old policy to President Obama, who is expected to sign it into law next week.
Manchin also wasn't with his colleagues to vote on the DREAM Act, which would have helped young people brought to the country illegally become U.S. citizens if they went to college or joined the military. That proposal stalled Saturday.
In an e-mail to the Gazette-Mail, Manchin spokeswoman Sara Payne Scarbro said the senator and his wife, Gayle, had "planned a holiday gathering over a year ago with all their children and grandchildren as they will not all be together on Christmas Day."
"While he regrets missing the votes, it was a family obligation that he just could not break," Payne Scarbro said. "However, he has been clear on where he stands on the issues."
Later Saturday, Payne Scarbro said the family event was in the Pittsburgh area, where Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, lives.
In statements issued Saturday, Manchin said he would not support either the immigration bill or a repeal of the military ban on openly gay service members.
He was the only Democrat to oppose reversing the military's policy when the Senate voted on the issue earlier this month. He said Saturday he still has "concerns over timing and implementation" of lifting the ban.