By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff
Republicans Get First Vote in All-Night Debate Over Iraq
Tue Jul 17, 2007 17:03

July 17, 2007
Republicans Get First Vote in All-Night Debate Over Iraq Policy

By Josh Rogin, CQ Staff

The Senate headed towards its first all-night session since 2003 Tuesday, as both Democrats and Republicans prepared to fight in the media to defend their positions on the war.

Under a unanimous consent agreement, the Senate was to vote Tuesday afternoon on a Republican amendment to the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill (HR 1585), expressing the sense of the Senate that it should commit to a strategy that will avoid a failed state in Iraq.

Offered by John Cornyn, R-Texas, the amendment required only a simple majority for adoption. But Republicans continued to block a similar up-or-down vote on a Democratic amendment that would force a U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq to begin within 120 days of enactment and be completed by April 30, 2008.

That amendment, sponsored by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., was to be debated all day Tuesday and into the night, with a vote on cloture scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Democrats have coalesced around the Levin-Reed language. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., frontrunners for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination, have signed on as co-sponsors.

The amendment also has three Republican cosponsors: Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

Snow characterized the amendment as a change of mission, not a withdrawal, and stressed the need for a policy change. “We are at the crossroads of hope and reality, and the time has come to address reality,” she said.

Smith blamed the Iraqi government for failing to make progress on political benchmarks. “Ultimately it’s a fight that’s theirs, not ours,” Smith said. “What the Levin-Reed amendment does is address that division of labor.”

But the White House has been lobbying heavily against the amendment, Levin said, causing many Republicans to oppose it publicly even as they privately urge a change in course.


Meanwhile, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved forward with plans to keep the Senate in session throughout the night, in a bid to draw more attention to the Republican opposition to withdrawal timelines.

Reid alerted the media that at 3 p.m., senators would “gather on the floor to begin the all-night session.” This was to be followed by a ceremonious rolling out of the cots, after which Iraq war veterans groups planned to visit the offices of key Republican Senators to amp up the pressure.

Later Tuesday evening, Senate Democrats, along with anti-war groups such as Americans United for Change and, planned to hold a candlelight ceremony in the upper Senate park.

Reid intends to hold quorum calls, enforced by the sergeant at arms if necessary, throughout the night. Levin admitted that the purpose of the all-night session was to “dramatize and clarify” for the public that the issue is whether or not Republicans will allow a simple majority vote on his measure.

Cornyn Amendment

The Cornyn amendment would seek to prevent Congress from passing any legislation that would “undermine our military’s ability to prevent a failed state in Iraq.”

Cornyn’s language also details a litany of local, regional, and international consequences that would result from an Iraq that descends in to chaos, and calls for the Senate to devise a strategy to avoid that scenario.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to an “up or down” vote on the Cornyn amendment, but continued to refuse to allow a simple majority vote on the Levin-Reed amendment. He reminded Democrats that a 60-vote margin is often needed to conduct business in the Senate. “That’s life in the Senate,” he said.

Other Amendments

Armed Services Committee ranking Republican John McCain, R-Ariz., reminded Levin that the Senate has yet to address over 100 substantive amendments to the authorization bill in this, the second week of debate.

“I would hope that we would get to these amendments if we are to have any hope of completing this bill,” McCain said.

Levin responded that if Republicans allowed an up or down vote on his Iraq amendment, the Senate could move on to other issues.

Several amendments would address U.S. treatment of detainees. Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the panel’s top Republican, are seeking to restore habeas corpus rights to prisoners held by the United States. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, have an amendment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year.

Leahy and Sen. Christopher S. Bond, R-Mo., co-chairs of the National Guard caucus, have an amendment to incorporate sections of the National Guard Empowerment Act (S 430) into the bill that would elevate the commander of the Guard to a four star status.

Specter joined with John Kerry, D-Mass., to put forth language that would prohibit the courts from considering presidential signing statements as authoritative when interpreting legislation.

Republican amendments tended to focus on defense programs targeted for reductions in the bill. For example, Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and David Vitter, R-La., are seeking to authorize $87 million more for Aegis missile defense systems.

Smith has an amendment to expand sanctions against Iran. The Senate earlier adopted by 90-5 an amendment by Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that would make it U.S. policy to counter the Iranian threat.

Members from both sides are attempting to increase funding and support for the treatment of traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorders, and bolster care at military medical facilities in the wake of the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

This story originally appeared in CQ Today.

2006 Congressional Quarterly

U.S. Senate Democrats Plan Around-the-Clock Debate on Iraq
U.S. Senate Democratic leaders are planning an around-the-clock debate on Iraq beginning Tuesday to try to pressure Republicans to vote for legislation calling for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by next April.


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