As word spread Monday that Ralph Nader may be thinking about another run for the White House, the Senate delivered what may be a timely reminder about American politics: For better or for worse, parties still matter.
There are 49 Republicans in the U.S. Senate, and nearly a dozen of them have spoken out strongly against the president's plan to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. But when push came to shove Monday, 45 of the Senate Republicans voted to avoid debate on the issue. We don't like to suggest that people are putting party over principle, but how else do you explain why somebody like John Warner, who introduced one of the resolutions at issue, or Chuck Hagel, who has accused Bush of playing "a ping-pong game with American lives," can get in line with his party and block further debate on the war?
Among Republican escalation critics, only two -- Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Maine's Susan Collins -- had the courage to buck their party's leadership and cast votes in favor of moving forward on debate. Two other Republicans missed the vote. We don't know where Florida Sen. Mel Martinez was; a spokeswoman for Arizona Sen. John McCain -- who wrote one of the resolutions that would have been considered under Harry Reid's plan -- told us a few minutes ago that he was "away" Monday but said she'd have to call us back later if we wanted any details beyond that.
As for the 49 Senate Democrats? Forty-seven of them voted to move forward on debate over Iraq. The 48th, South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson, remains hospitalized after suffering a brain hemorrhage in December. The 49th, Sen. Mary Landrieu, was meeting with constituents back home in Louisiana. "She offered to stay [in Washington] if needed, but it was clear the vote wouldn't be close enough to warrant it," a spokesman told us earlier today. "So she chose to honor the original commitment to her constituents. She would have voted in favor of cloture along with the rest of the Democrats and is an original cosponsor of the underlying resolution." (If you check the final vote count on the Senate's Web site, you'll see Harry Reid listed as a vote against cloture; that's because he switched his vote at the end so that he'd have the right to move for reconsideration later.)
That leaves the Senate's two independents, who split their votes on the cloture motion. Vermont's Bernie Sanders voted with the Democrats. Connecticut's Joe Lieberman voted with the Republicans. Lieberman's vote wasn't exactly unexpected -- the editors at the National Review liked his pre-vote speech so much that they've posted it on their Web site -- but it was still a little jarring to hear Republican Sen. John Cornyn, working out the details of who'd speak when Monday, describe the former Democrat as being on "our side."