Senate Sleepover: Democrats Fail to Force Iraq Vote

Republicans successfully blocked a vote Wednesday morning on a bill to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Democrats needing 60 votes under Senate rules to proceed to a vote -- a motion to vote on an amendment calling for withdrawal from Iraq offered by Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island -- failed with 52 supporting the motion, 47 opposed.

The failure of the measure was not a surprise, but neither was it without progress.

The three Senate Republicans who stated their support for the Levin-Reed measure before the vote -- Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Gordon Smith of Oregon, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- were joined by a fourth vote on the measure, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. Every Democrat voted in favor of the measure, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., changed his vote to "No" so that, in accordance with Senate rules, he will be able to call the amendment back at a later date.

Democrats had pulled out all the stops to bring attention to the vote, holding the Senate's first all-night session since 2003, complete with cots laid out and pillows puffed.

As the moon rose over Washington, D.C., Reid -- frustrated by Republicans using Senate rules to prevent a direct majority vote on the troop withdrawal bill -- held a series of quorum calls, requiring all senators to come to the floor and vote present.

He'd planned to do that all night but -- at the behest of Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., who expressed concern about some of the older senators -- held off from doing so between approximately midnight and 5 a.m.

In an interview with ABC News during the late-night session, Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democratic pressure was working.

"We really feel like we're moving toward that critical mass, that number of votes we need to change the war, and this is about trying to persuade a few more Republicans to join us," he said. Durbin acknowledged that the vote on the Levin-Reed bill Wednesday morning would likely fail but that the sleepover session, which Republicans derided as everything from political theater to a stunt, would have an effect.

"I guarantee you this," Durbin said, "those senators who have already said they are displeased with the president's policy, they are going to go home in August and face a lot of questions: 'Why didn't you vote to start bringing the troops home? If you think the policy is wrong, why didn't you vote that way?'"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the overnight session pointless. "There's no good reason for it," McConnell said. "This is a little bit of Hollywood on Capitol Hill. It's theater -- and not very good theater."

Theater or not, the night was replete with some staging -- most notably with the cots, which a Democratic aide says were used by three-to-four senators to catch some winks. There was also the question, of course, of dinner. Earlier in the week, Reid had pooh-poohed the idea of a pizza pie. "I personally don't like pizza, so that won't be a part of the deal," he said. Reid was resolute on troop withdrawal, but he did ultimately fold on the pizza.

Over at Republican headquarters, in McConnell's headquarters, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., scarfed down Chick-Fil-A. Warner is one of the senators Durbin was referring to -- someone who has expressed concern about the president's strategy in Iraq but who has yet to vote for any Democratic resolutions. But when we caught up with him he seemed more concerned with setting a date certain to get food in his belly.

"We have some chicken nuggets," said a McConnell staffer, who proceeded to put food on the senior statesman's plate. "That's wonderful," said Warner. "Don't give me all the burned pieces. There you go, now give me a little fruit."

After taking a big bite of his chicken sandwich, Warner declared the meal "not quite like home-cooking, but it's OK."

Democrats, meanwhile, hungered for votes against the war, and media attention, marching outside at about 9 p.m. to hold a rally. "We're going to wake up the Senate," yelled Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "We're going to wake up the White House. We're going to wake up the country. We're awake tonight!!"

And they were. All night, senators debated the war cogently, passionately and for the most part respectfully.

At roughly 9:30 p.m., Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who has offered nonbinding legislation that would direct the president to follow the directions of the Iraq Study Group, said that "with this political stunt tonight, the United States Senate has stooped to the approximate level of the Iraqi parliament in dealing with the war in Iraq."

At 11:33 p.m., Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., countered that "rather than hiding behind a shrinking minority, Republicans should listen to the American people and change the course of this failed war policy." Menendez insisted that "this is not about political theater. If there's political theater here, it's the sad, sad plot of the Republican leadership has weaved in creating this procedural hurdle to not permit a simple majority vote."

Shortly after midnight, Reid announced that there would be no more quorum calls until after 5 a.m., causing a mass exodus of sleep-deprived lawmakers into the Capitol parking lot. There a rowdy group of anti-war protestors with the group Code Pink greeted the senators with hoots and hollers, depending on their position on the Iraq War, also offering an impromptu rendition of "Stop! In the Name of Peace!"

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who crossed the aisle to side with Democrats and support the Levin-Reed amendment, was greeted with cheers, but Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, was not only heckled for his position in support of the surge but also mocked for not being able to find his car in the dark Capitol parking lot. Inside, the momentous debate continued. Charged Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., shortly after 3:15 a.m., "The Republican minority has stripped Americans of their voice in this debate."

At 4:33 a.m., Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., said, "Our message to the president is clear: It's time to start thinking of our troops and our broader position in Iraq and beyond -- not next year, not next month but today. "

At 5:09 a.m., the Senate's newest member, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said, "What I heard from people all around Wyoming was "Don't quit, don't pull out -- support the troops!"

McConnell said the issue of whether the Levin-Reed bill needed to achieve 60 votes or 50 was silly. Controversial bills require 60 votes, he insisted. "All majorities in the Senate would love for it to be 50 votes, but this is the United States Senate. We require 60 votes. That's the way it works when they were in the minority. That's the way it is now."

Then came the vote, at shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday. "If there were ever a time for a prayer, it would be before this very important vote," Reid said, to no avail. Reid then took the unusual step of removing the larger bill being considered on the Senate floor -- the Defense Department Authorization bill -- and moving on to other business. Democrat Durbin told ABC News that this would likely not be the last Senate all-nighter. "If Republicans persist in this idea of filibustering every vote on the war in Iraq," by requiring a 60-vote threshold, he said, "we're going to have a lot of late-night sessions."

Z Byron Wolf, Matt Jaffe, Tian Huang, John Parkinson and Ben Newman contributed to this report.