WASHINGTON – The Senate experienced two unusual events Thursday relating to the debate on a resolution authorizing action against Iraq: for one, senators showed up. Two, the lead guardian of the Senate's rules asked that they be broken.
Wednesday's debate was widely attended in the Senate, which is a switch from the usual scene where dramatic performances are given in front of near-empty chambers. Lawmakers only have a few days until the Senate votes on whether to give President Bush broad authority to take military action, if necessary, to prevent Iraq from building weapons of mass destruction.
The attendance was put to good use by those on both sides of the Iraq question since debate indeed occurred. It also provided a forum for Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., to beg his colleagues to break Senate rules and delay a crucial test vote on the resolution scheduled for Thursday.
Sensing imminent defeat of measures to oppose the resolution, Byrd, who is the Senate's greatest defender of the Constitution and Senate rules, said that too much rests on the decision for it to be made so quickly.
"I'm asking that in this peculiar, unique situation involving so much of country's treasure in blood and dollars, I'm asking that senators join with me in putting off the decision," he said.
Byrd suggested that the weeks of debate so far have not been enough, and implied that those ready to vote now were rash and indifferent to the potential human cost.
"I make my plea on behalf of moms and dads and grandparents of this country, the fate of whose daughters and grandchildren hinges on a vote for cloture, shutting off debate," Byrd said.
Proponents of the resolution, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war, would have none of it.
"Nobody in this body has any priority or any franchise on America's young men and women," McCain said.
The Senate's discourse was measured compared to the exchange in the House, where California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark also departed from the chamber's usual decorum.
"We have a president who thinks foreign territory is the opponent's dugout, and Kashmir is a sweater," Stark said in reference to the disputed territory between India and Pakistan. "Is the president's need for revenge for the threat once posed to his father enough to justify the death of any American? Rich kids wont pay. Their daddies will get them deferments, as big George did for George W."
President Bush has not been shy to say that Saddam's evil can be measured by his willingness to try to assassinate "my dad," President George H.W. Bush. Nonetheless, the presiding officer issued a rebuke to Stark that it is against congressional rules to refer to the president in personal terms.
Stark wasn't the sole Democrat in opposition of the resolution. Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., who likes to mention his service in Vietnam, in which he served as a cook in Los Angeles, said he saw enough to know that "war destroys lives in such a profound way."
Neither of them was reading off the script handed out from Democratic political operatives James Carville and Bob Shrum, who gave House Democrats a step-by-step poll-tested guide to voting on the war resolution.
The memo, obtained by Fox News, is an attempt to teach Democrats how to speak about the war so as not to alienate their voting base.
"A Democratic supporter of an Iraq resolution is most compelling and strongly preferred to a Republican supporter when he or she gives strong voice to certain reservations about this operation -- the need for allies who will share costs, concern about increased instability and neglect of the war on terrorism," the memo reads.
"In order to maintain Democratic morale, it is critical that Democratic supporters of this resolution be articulate about their reservations as 34 percent of the Democrats in the country want to vote for a Democrat opposed to authorizing force," it says.
Despite the risk of offending their constituents, key Democratic lawmakers Sens. Harry Reid of Nevada, who is the Senate Majority Whip, and John Kerry of Massachusetts, a potential presidential candidate, got behind the president on Thursday.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who warned against rushing to war, also said that he would support the bottom line.
The House is expected to vote on -- and pass by a wide margin -- the resolution on Thursday. That same day, the Senate will hold a cloture vote that, if it passes, will limit debate and allow for a final vote by the end of the week.
Fox News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.