The Upshot of the Debate: No Debate
Perhaps too much was expected of an organization that began its "Morning Business" yesterday at 2 in the afternoon.
Still, the U.S. Senate set a new standard for procrastination last night when lawmakers decided, after nearly four years of war in Iraq, that they were not quite ready to have a debate about the conflict. Among those who voted against having this modest discussion was Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the sponsor of the resolution that was to be debated.
Like arms negotiators in years past bickering about the shape of the table, the senators dedicated themselves to fighting about the terms of the debate. They spent the better part of an hour just quibbling over the speaking order.
"I'd like to inquire: At what point can other senators speak?" Warner queried.
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) asked that "I have 10 minutes to be followed by the time that Senator Byrd has."
But Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) wanted to give an hour-long speech before Lott spoke.
"You want the full hour in one block?" asked the presiding officer, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).
"Of course!" Byrd shot back. "An hour is an hour."
Laughter rippled through the gallery. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) smiled. "If I could suggest, to speed this up, instead of taking the five minutes Senator Durbin was going to yield to me, I would defer to let Senator Lott speak for five minutes," he offered.
The matter was resolved. Byrd took the floor and spoke for 44 minutes -- about coal mining.
Those waiting for the much-anticipated Iraq debate in the Senate will have to wait a while longer. Republican leaders, eager to avoid a public airing of views on the unpopular war, raised procedural objections. Democratic leaders, figuring that public pressure would force Republicans to capitulate, refused to meet their demand that all resolutions on the Iraq war get 60 votes to pass. And each side got tangled up in talking points as it tried to blame the other for preventing a discussion.
"We are, in effect, being denied a fair process here for this extremely important debate," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared at a news conference in his office.