The Anguished Moderate | Olympia Snowe

By Shailagh Murray and Elizabeth Williamson
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, one of the first Republicans to abandon President Bush on the Iraq war, found bipartisan accord elusive amid the cots and toothbrushes, pizza boxes and recriminations of last week's all-night Senate debate.

The spectacle, she said, was "frustrating," "difficult" and, perhaps worst of all for this consensus-builder, "polarizing."

Her Republican colleagues held firm, filibustering a Democratic proposal to set a withdrawal deadline for U.S. troops -- a measure that Snowe supported.

Snowe's turn to speak came at 2:45 a.m. "We can no longer afford to place more American servicemen and women in harm's way to instill a peace that the Iraqis seem unwilling to seek for themselves," she declared. The past three months had been the bloodiest for American troops since the war began, the White House was pushing for time past September, and "the Iraqi government failed to accomplish any of these political objectives that the Iraqis themselves set."

She slept not at all that night, listening to floor speeches that "became a tit for tat," she recalled, with members of each party decrying past stonewalling by the other. It left her disgusted. "When men and women are dying every day, to talk about who did what, when, throughout the history of the Senate has nothing to do with how we're going to resolve one of the greatest issues of our time," Snowe said.

After a brief break at home to freshen up, she was back at 5 a.m. for more of the parliamentary maneuvering that marked the session. Finally, at midday, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) announced that there would be no more Iraq votes after Republicans refused to drop their demand for a 60-vote margin rather than a simple majority on the war measures.

"We should have persevered," Snowe said later, traces of the week's stress still visible on her face. "At a time in which people deserve to have some clarity on this question . . . it's like we stood still."

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