On a 56-43 vote, Democrats fell four votes shy of the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster on the bill that contains language that would repeal the military policy of "don't ask, don't tell" concerning gays and lesbians serving in the military.
Republicans cited several reasons for their positions, including their concerns that no amendments would be considered, that repealing "don't ask, don't tell" language should wait until a related Pentagon survey is complete and that an amendment on immigration reform was not related to the bill.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, pleaded with his colleagues to allow the bill to move to the amendment phase.
"The debate today is whether we can get to the point where we can debate amendments," he said. "The only way we can get to that point is ... if the filibuster does not succeed."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the ranking Republican on the committee, said members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were against repealing "don't ask, don't tell" until the military completes its survey on the matter.
"We're in two wars," McCain said. "And we're now pursing the social agenda of the Democratic Party" instead of making the welfare, morale and effectiveness of the U.S. military the priority.
He also accused Democrats of playing politics by including "don't ask, don't tell" and an immigration bill that would offer a path to citizenship if they pursue a college education or enlist in the military.
"This is a blatant political ploy in order to galvanize the political base of the other side" that is facing a tough midterm election.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, Ind-Conn., noted that the "don't ask, don't tell" passed as part of a defense authorization bill in 1993, so it was appropriate that its repeal should be considered in the 2010 version.
"There's a fundamental judgment ... that it ought to go. It's hurting our military," Lieberman said.
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