Senators will apparently pull an all-nighter Tuesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid keeps them in session to consider forcing an Iraq troop withdrawal on President Bush.
Democrats want to vote on their binding amendment to place a timetable on withdrawing combat troops from Iraq. And Republican leaders don't want to let them. The Republicans, as is their right, are insisting the amendment get 60 votes to pass a procedural motion to limit debate -- that cloture vote will likely come after the all-nighter, some time Wednesday.
"If the Republicans are going to play this procedural games of Bush and McConnell, then they're going to have to live with the fact that the American people are going to be watching this all night."
Because they won't consent to an up or down vote, Democrats say the Republicans are filibustering. (The important thing to remember in the Senate is that the filibuster is, for the most part, a thing of the past. It's not Jimmy Stewart reading off letters and ma's recipe to literally keep the place from functioning. Nowadays, Senators respect each other's right to filibuster and move on.)
Reid said he is going to keep everyone in all Tuesday night to teach them a lesson.
"We've talked a lot about filibusters but, you know, people have gotten pretty lazy about filibusters around here," Reid said at a press conference on Capitol Hill Monday.
"They just say, 'OK, you're going to filibuster. OK, we'll back off then.' That isn't the way it's going to be on Iraq, the most important issue facing the American people."
While Reid's homage to the filibuster could make for good late-nite television, it probably will not change the outcome of anything. When the Senate votes on cloture for the withdrawal amendment on Wednesday, no matter how long Senators stay Tuesday night, it is unlikely to reach the 60 vote threshold. In that regard, Reid's gesture is as much theater as "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
Despite a number of high-profile rhetorical defections from the White House among Republicans, most will probably not support the proposal, offered as an amendment to the annual Defense policy bill, to withdraw all combat troops out of Iraq by April of 2008 and transition those remaining troops protect to train Iraqi troops, perform counterterror operations and help patrol Iraq's borders.
"Staying in session, we're going to give Republican senators an opportunity to explain where they stand and how they're going to vote," said the number two Democrat in the Senate, Majority Whip Dick Durbin at the press conference with Reid.
Many of these senators have been back home, telling their constituents they've given up on the president's policy in Iraq. Well, the question is, will they have the courage now to vote with those who want real change and support the Levin-Reed amendment? "It isn't good enough to say, 'Well, I supported some other amendment that didn't have a timetable, that didn't bring troops home.' That isn't good enough. If you really want to change the policy, you can't rely on the discretion of a president who doesn't understand the reality of the war in Iraq. That's what this debate is all about."
Later, on the Senate floor, Durbin engaged in a debate with one of those Republicans who has expressed frustration with the White House strategy in Iraq - Sen. John Warner, R-VA, who told Durbin that no matter what, he could not support a binding timetable for withdrawal because it would usurp the President's constitutional power as commander in chief and could thrust Iraq even further into civil war.
Warner has sponsored an amendment that is similar to the Democratic withdrawal amendment, but strips all binding language out of it. Republicans also want votes on several other Iraq policy measures, including a pro-White House statement that withdrawal from Iraq could lead to disaster there. Democratic leaders, while they may allow votes on those later, are trying to cast their withdrawal vote as an up or down statement on the war.
Republican Jeff Sessions has not yet broken with the President and he criticized Democrats on the Senate floor for trying to pull out American combat troops.
"The terrorists are sophisticated to get bloody headlines to affect the American public opinion. Our very souls are being -- souls are being tested," he said.
"This nation has met tough times before, including the burning of our own capitol by the British in 1812 or the brutal bloody Civil War, or the massive deaths in World War I, or the attack on Pearl Harbor? Or the Italian campaign? The ferocious betters of D-day, the Battle of the Bulge and during the Korean war? These are major moments in American history and blunders and strategies and tactics and timing occurred in almost every one of them. Many, many errors occurred, failures that cost lives unnecessarily, placed our nation at greater risk than was necessary."
Of course, all of this could still be avoided and Senators could get their beauty sleep if Reid and McConnell reach "unanimous consent" -- the Senate's version of a gentlemen's agreement -- to go home early.
But they probably won't. And it wouldn't be the first time.
Most recently, however, it was Republicans keeping Democrats in session to prove the point about filibustering. On November 13th of 2003, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist kept the Senate in session for 30 straight hours of debate on judicial nominees.
Democrats had blocked four, and kept blocking them through the filibuster, though two have become judges in the years since then.