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Reluctantly, the Senate's Weekend Warriors

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, ordered an unpopular Saturday vote on the resolution on the Iraq war. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, called it
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, ordered an unpopular Saturday vote on the resolution on the Iraq war. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), left, called it "a crucial vote not just for the moment or for the week, but for the history of America." (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Dana Milbank
Friday, February 16, 2007

Now this is war.

After four years of fighting in Iraq, and two weeks of trying to force senators to debate the conflict, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday wheeled out the ultimate weapon.

He ordered his colleagues to work on Saturday.

To the average American, this would be an inconvenience. To a senator, a Saturday vote is a hardship reserved for national crises such as impeachment or Terri Schiavo. Votes have been held on Saturday only five times in the past 10 years.

"Time is of the essence," Reid told a rapt audience in the Senate television studio yesterday afternoon. "That's why the Senate will have another Iraq vote on Saturday."

The "vote on Saturday is a crucial vote not just for the moment or for the week, but for the history of America," added an overwrought Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "We're calling their bluff. We're staying here. Now vote yes or no."

But in trying to force Republicans to debate Iraq, Reid caused untold pain and suffering for his Democratic colleagues, many of whom prefer to spend their weekends running for president. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be campaigning in New Hampshire on Saturday. Barack Obama had plans to be in South Carolina and Virginia. Joe Biden had an Iowa trip scheduled. Chris Dodd had events scheduled in South Carolina.

And then there was Republican John McCain, who had an Iowa engagement, and all those senators on both sides planning to leave on trips for the Presidents' Day recess.

The Post's Shailagh Murray asked Reid whether he had considered the burden his Saturday plan was placing on his ambitious colleagues.

"I'm confident they will be -- most of them will be here," he hedged.

Moments after Reid's bombshell, one presidential candidate, Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), went to the Senate floor to voice his dissent. "I don't think that is a fair or appropriate process for this body to follow," he said. Particularly because he had plans to attend the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Florida on Saturday.

The prospective loss of his Saturday caused great distress to the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.). He scheduled a news conference for 4 p.m., then moved it to 4:15, then 4:45, then back to 4:30, and finally arrived at 4:40. There, he was asked how his colleagues felt about surrendering their Saturday. "You'll have to ask all of them," he said tightly.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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