Senate's Iraq Debate Is More Slumber Than Party

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, July 19, 2007

With much fanfare, Democrats invited camera crews to film the arrival of a dozen cots outside the Senate chamber Tuesday afternoon for the all-night Iraq debate.

With rather less fanfare, the cots, unused, were removed early yesterday morning. "They've been taking some of them out," a Capitol Police officer said at 2 a.m. "It was just a photo op."

So was the debate.

The Democrats had the cameras film the delivery of pizza to the cloakroom. They offered barbecue to Republicans. They gave GOP senators care packages of Colgate toothpaste, a CVS toothbrush and Speed Stick deodorant, all wrapped in a yellow ribbon with a note taunting: "A few supplies for your sleepless night. Help us bring an end to this war."

If wars could be ended as easily as cavities, the Democrats' tactics might have produced some results. But everybody knew that opponents of the war didn't have the 60 votes the GOP required to pass a withdrawal plan; the Democrats fell eight votes short when the decision came yesterday. Rather than work out a compromise, they called the all-night session to focus maximum embarrassment on the Republicans.

A cranky minority party came prepared for a pillow fight.

"I guess we'll have a lot of fun staying up late, having a Senate slumber party," groused John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) complained about "phony images of cots, toothpaste and sleepy politicians."

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who lamented "all the gags and giggles and gimmicks, the cold pizza and the empty cots," upbraided his colleagues: "This isn't Hollywood -- this is real life."

By the second of three "bed checks" -- roll-call votes to roust senators from their slumber -- there could be no mistaking the Senate floor for Hollywood.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) entered the chamber after midnight with his white hair wildly askew -- an apparent victim of bed head. Idaho Republican Mike Crapo's shirt was partly untucked. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had changed into a black muumuu, while half a dozen men went with a slacks-and-blazer combo. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) chewed gum. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) unwrapped a candy bar and dropped crumbs as he ate. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) reclined in his chair. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) blinked as though his eyes were dry. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) yawned.

Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) sat at a desk and rubbed his face, wearing a faraway expression. When Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the next bed check would be at 5 a.m., Stevens's countenance turned sour.

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