By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Democrats rolled out cots and ordered pizzas as they settled in for a marathon Senate debate on Iraq last night that featured numerous speeches but little chance of getting any closer to resolving the stalemate over how to end the war.
Republicans were determined to block legislation forcing a withdrawal of combat troops, which was expected to come before bleary-eyed senators this morning in the nonstop session. Republicans dismissed the Democrats' overnight effort as political theatrics and vowed to enforce a 60-vote threshold for passing the withdrawal proposal, which would bring most troop homes by May.
"The amendment will look just as bad at 3 a.m. as it does at 3 p.m.," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "The Democrats' all-night debate is nothing more than a publicity stunt -- as Democrats have freely admitted."
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and his leadership team circulated sign-up sheets for speakers. Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), one of the front-runners for the 2008 Democratic nomination, was scheduled to take the floor between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., just as the television networks' morning news programs start their broadcasts. Senators were warned that votes could occur anytime throughout the night.
The first roundup of senators began at 8:30 p.m. for a procedural vote. Afterward, several Democrats left the Capitol for a candlelight vigil across the street with antiwar activists.
In a sign of the late-night weariness, a second procedural vote held at midnight drew 80 senators, some of whom had changed into more casual clothing. It officially drew a quorum, but 11 fewer senators showed up than had for the earlier vote.
Obama, who had been at a campaign event in Cincinnati earlier in the evening, made it back to the chamber for the midnight vote. Reid set another quorum-call vote for sometime after 5 a.m., with the penultimate vote on the amendment sponsored by Reid and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) slated for 11 a.m. today.
Earlier in the day, Reid had ordered cots to be set up in a ceremonial room off the Senate floor, and reporters were alerted when the beds, along with pillows, were delivered in the afternoon.
The office of Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) dispatched interns to buy toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant for delivery to GOP leadership offices, with a note offering the "supplies for your sleepless night." It added: "Help us bring an end to this war."
"Will the all-night session change any votes? I hope so," said Reid. "Because it will focus attention on the obstructionism of the Republicans."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said 60-vote thresholds have become standard for controversial legislation in the narrowly divided Senate. He reminded Democrats that they used similar blocking tactics when they were the minority party.
"If they want to debate all night, we'll be here," McConnell said. "Plenty of volunteers will be here to discuss this issue as long as they would like."
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) took to the floor just before 11 p.m. to denounce the amendment and noted that he hoped the cots would "wake up the senators," referring to the Democrats.
Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, voted with the Republicans on the procedural vote at 8:30 p.m., just as he has on every war vote this year.
"It's time for all of us to wake up to what's happening in Iraq," he said later. "Redeployment is nothing more than mandated defeat."
Some Republicans contended that the round-the-clock debate -- the first since November 2003 -- had helped GOP leaders shore up some of their wavering senators. Despite plummeting public support for the war, President Bush has urged lawmakers not to take decisive action until September, when Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker deliver a highly anticipated assessment of the war.
"The idea of waiting for Petraeus and giving him a chance has grown on Republicans," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), one of the war's staunchest supporters.
The various Iraq proposals are offered as amendments to the annual defense authorization bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has co-sponsored an amendment that moves away from the current strategy and adopts the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations, said Reid is "playing politics" and possibly hardening positions on both sides.
Alexander said Bush needs to be "more flexible," but he noted that Reid's handling of the floor debate is "slowing down our effort to find common ground."
"Instead of this gamesmanship, we should be trying to put together a unified position," Alexander said. He estimated that as many as 70 senators oppose the current White House strategy and could rally around a centrist alternative.
Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq's ambassador to the United States, said yesterday that the Baghdad government believes the Petraeus-Crocker report will be too premature in judging the impact of the U.S. military buildup.
"We want the surge continued. September is frankly too soon to really show anything more than an inkling of its potential. But we want that to continue until we see real fruit," Sumaidaie told reporters.
Although Democrats expect to fall well short of 60 votes today, they hope that the all-night session will show antiwar voters that the party is not relenting, despite continuing to fall short in its efforts to force the White House to change course.
The group VoteVets.org called in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans to spend the night in the Senate gallery. MoveOn.org organized "counter-filibusters" in which protesters outside Senate offices and in other public places read firsthand accounts from Iraq war veterans and military families. "We'll send a clear message to senators and the media that this isn't about partisan games -- it's about people's lives," the group said.