Senate sleepover

Democrats force Republicans to stay up through most of the night to debate Iraq.

By Alex Koppelman

Published July 18, 2007 1:40PM (EDT)

We're just about an hour away from the denouement of the (almost) all-night Senate session called Tuesday night and Wednesday morning by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in an attempt to shame Republicans into dropping the 60-vote filibuster-proof threshold and allowing an up-or-down vote on legislation that would force a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. At 11 a.m. EDT, barring a miracle intervention by Jimmy Stewart himself, Reid will call for a cloture vote to end the Republican filibuster, it will fail, and the Democrats will move on to other pending legislation.

Though the ending almost certainly won't be a surprise, the night did provide some excitement, in the form of a rally outside the U.S. Capitol and some bombastic speeches from senators inside.

"America is awake," Reid said from the floor of the Senate. "They understand ... very clearly that we have a situation where we have a president who will be in office only another 17 months and they want the war to end before he leaves office. They want to change course in the war in Iraq, which has caused the deaths of almost 3,700 Americans, the wounding of tens of thousands of Americans, costing us over half a trillion dollars. That's what the American people want. They are awake."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., one of the sponsors of the amendment being debated, also took to the Senate floor to denounce the Republican filibuster and bemoan the state of the war.

"Our servicemen and women are dying and being wounded while Iraqi leaders dawdle," Levin said. "The Iraqis themselves made commitments to share resources and power, amend their constitution, hold provincial elections and take over responsibility for their own security in many more places than they have. They made the commitments. They made them last year. They made them in writing. But they have not kept them ...

"We need to send the clear message to the Iraqi leaders that we will not be in Iraq indefinitely and that we will not be their security blanket forever.

"That is what the bipartisan Levin-Reed amendment would do, if we're allowed to vote on it. Our amendment would require the president to begin reducing the number of American troops in Iraq within four months after enactment. It would require transitioning the mission of our remaining military forces to force protection, training of Iraqi security forces and targeted counterterrorism missions ...

"If we can get to the Levin-Reed amendment, if we can overcome the filibuster, and if we can pass it, we will have provided for starting the reduction of our forces in Iraq and transitioning to more limited missions no later than 120 days after enactment ... The clock is ticking. We are losing more American lives and more American resources in Iraq every day that we delay. The time has come to set timelines for our troops to reduce our forces in Iraq, to transition to new limited missions, and to embark on a comprehensive diplomatic, political and economic strategy to bring stability to Iraq."

Taking his turn at the podium, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, from Kentucky, denounced the Democrats' maneuver.

"Our Democratic friends thought they were going to teach Republicans a lesson today on how to proceed in Iraq," he said. "Instead, Americans got an object lesson on why Democrats have failed to accomplish any of their goals over the last seven months ... I would ask our colleagues on the other side to think of the tangle we're in. Republicans have asked repeatedly to move up the cloture vote on the Levin troop withdrawal amendment. They've blocked us every time because they prefer the theater of the all-nighter ... We were elected to legislate, not to strut across a stage. This isn't Hollywood. This is real life here in the Senate. Much depends on how we conduct ourselves right here and how we conduct ourselves in this debate."

Despite the forceful words from the floor, Reid wasn't as tough on the assembled senators as he could have been -- he could have had those who did not appear brought bodily to the floor by the sergeant-at-arms, but did not, and he acceded to the requests of several senators to push a vote back from 3 a.m. ("Harry, sweetheart, 5:30 or 6?" the New York Times reported Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., asked Reid) to allow them to get a couple of hours of shut-eye. He moved that vote to 5 a.m.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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