Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Democrats Stage All-Night Debate on Iraq

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., points to a wanted poster of Osama bin Laden as she discusses the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday, July 17, 2007. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)

Senate Democrats made Republicans stand, talk and sit for marathon arguments against the protracted war in Iraq in an all-night session where the most eye-catching props were the beds brought in for the sleepy.

Republicans, indeed, responded with a yawn agreeing to stay around as Tuesday turned to Wednesday and respond to any votes that might be scheduled even though they remained 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.

By then, attendance had fallen off. As the day dawned, bleary-eyed senators passed the same motion 37-23.

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.

With a half-dozen spectators watching from the gallery, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and John Thune of South Dakota were among those speaking during the long night, joined by Democrats Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Jim Webb of Virginia. Republican presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona finished his speech around 4:10 a.m. He was followed by White House hopeful Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee in the last election, had the floor as the sun started rising over Capitol Hill.

The Senate was to vote later in the morning 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., 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.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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