Senate Democrats staged an all-night debate on the Iraq war in a dramatic attempt to wear down Republicans who refuse to vote to begin to bring troops home by fall.
Republicans responded with a yawn — agreeing to stay around and respond to any votes that might be scheduled around-the-clock but remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Democrats’ anti-war legislation.
“This is nonsense,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
Added Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., of his Democratic colleagues: “I bet I can stay up longer than they can.”
And so he did, speaking on the floor after even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had retired, a little after midnight, to a cot set up in a parlor adjacent to his office.
Reid had pushed through a motion minutes earlier, on a 41-37 roll-call vote, instructing the Senate Sergeant-at-arms to “request the attendance of absent senators” in an effort to keep members near the chamber. Having made his point, Reid than announced there would be no further votes before 5 a.m. EDT.
Thus, most senators got a chance for a few hours of shuteye even while a handful of their colleagues took turns droning on through the night with floor speeches.
The “live” audience for the speeches was sparce, however, and there was no indication how aggressive the sergeant-at-arms was being in carrying out his official instructions to keep members near the chamber — or whether he was insisting that they be awake.
The Senate was to vote Wednesday on legislation by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., that would require President Bush to begin pulling troops out of Iraq in 120 days. After April 30, an unspecified number of troops would be allowed to remain in Iraq to fight terrorists, protect U.S. assets and train Iraqi security forces.
The legislation was expected to attract the support of a narrow majority of senators — around 52 votes — but fall short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and end a filibuster.
“Will the all-night session change any votes? I hope so,” said Reid, D-Nev. “Because it will focus attention on the obstructionism of the Republicans.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned to spend most of Wednesday on Capitol Hill lobbying lawmakers on Bush’s Iraq policy, a senior State Department official said.
Rice’s plans included spending up to five hours in the morning and early afternoon in group and private meetings in both the Senate and House. The focus would be Iraq and other foreign policy issues, including the Middle East, the official said.
While the issue was momentous — a war more than four years in duration, costing more than 3,600 U.S. troops their lives — the proceedings were thick with politics.
MoveOn.org, the anti-war group, announced plans for more than 130 events around the country to coincide with the Senate debate, part of an effort to pressure Republicans into allowing a final vote on the legislation. A candlelight vigil and rally across the street from the Capitol was prominent among them, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., among those attending.
Republican Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon and Olympia Snowe of Maine appeared with Democratic supporters of the legislation at a news conference. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., was also expected to endorse the measure.
“We are at the crossroads of hope and reality, and the time has come to address reality,” said Snowe, who said the Iraqi government was guilty of “serial intransigence” when it came to trying to solve the country’s political problems.
Smith, who is seeking re-election next year, said Iraqis appeared focused on “revenge, not reconciliation,” and that the administration needed to change its approach. “The American mission is to make sure that Iraq doesn’t fall into the hands of al-Qaida,” he said, rather than referee a civil war.