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Democrats Won't Force War Vote

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, right, shown with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), said he may revive consideration of war proposals after Labor Day.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, right, shown with Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), said he may revive consideration of war proposals after Labor Day. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

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By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 19, 2007

Senate Democrats halted their quest to change President Bush's war strategy yesterday after Republicans blocked a proposal to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

After the vote, which followed a rare all-night debate, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) startled colleagues by announcing that the Senate would not vote on several other proposals intended to force Bush to revisit his war plans. Although war critics in both parties had supported the measures, Reid and other Democratic leaders dismissed them as too weak. Instead, they are holding firm in their bid to persuade GOP critics of Bush's Iraq policy to embrace more aggressive Democratic measures to begin withdrawing troops.

Reid's move was hailed by antiwar groups, which have urged Democrats not to compromise. But his decision may also have the effect of providing Bush with an opportunity that he has wanted: 60 more days to make his case that the war is making progress.

Yesterday's 52 to 47 vote signaled that a slim Senate majority supports bringing home most combat forces by May 1, 2008, and came amid indications in recent weeks that a growing number of Republicans are concerned about progress in Iraq. Although Democrats won four Republican defectors, they fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to overcome the GOP's procedural objections.

After the results were tallied, Reid asked GOP leaders to accept simple-majority votes. When they refused, Reid announced that the debate would be suspended, possibly until after Labor Day or until Republicans dropped their filibuster. He called the 60-vote requirement "a new math that was developed by the Republicans to protect the president."

The vote followed 24 hours of Iraq speeches on the Senate floor, stretching from 11 a.m. Tuesday until yesterday's 11 a.m. vote. Cots that had been brought in for the overnight session were wheeled back out to a congressional storage facility, after being used by just six senators.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the all-night debate "serious and important," while reminding Reid that the 60-vote requirement had become a standard hurdle for controversial measures in a narrowly divided Senate, including in recent years when Democrats were the minority party.

The war proposals are amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a military pay raise and Iraq equipment upgrades. Reid's decision halted progress on that legislation, promoting criticism from Republicans.

"We are abandoning the men and women in the military if we don't take this bill back up and pass it, conference with the House, and have it signed by the president of the United States, as we have for the past 45 years," said Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

But Reid's decision pleased antiwar groups, which have pressed Democrats to bring the war to a close. "I think Senator Reid took an important step toward confronting Republican obstructionism and ending the war," said Tom Matzzie, a strategist for MoveOn.org.

Matzzie said his group's efforts are concentrated on "forcing the entire Republican Party to look over the side of the cliff" at the political consequences of continuing to stand by Bush. Antiwar groups are focused in particular on Senate Republicans up for reelection next year.

"Ultimately, we end the war by creating a toxic political environment for war supporters like the Republicans in the Senate," Matzzie said.


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