Published February 06, 2007
WASHINGTON – The Senate's Democratic majority failed Monday to shut off debate on a non-binding resolution that "disagrees" with President Bush's troop surge in Iraq, throwing debate on the policy into limbo and depriving Democrats of a bipartisan rebuke of the White House.
The vote on a motion to end debate was 49 to 47, well short of the 60 votes necessary to stop discussion and move toward passage of the non-binding resolution sponsored by Sens. John Warner, R- Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Forty-seven Democrats voted to end debate. They were joined by two Republicans, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Susan Collins of Maine.
Two Democrats opposed the move to end debate. One was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who had to vote no to preserve the option of revisiting debate at a later date. The other Democrat to vote no was Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who labels himself an Independent Democrat and who supports the president's new Iraq strategy.
Forty-five Republicans voted against cutting off debate, including Warner and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, both of whom vehemently oppose sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.
Two Republicans missed the vote, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Mel Martinez of Florida. Two Democrats also missed the debate, Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Johnson is recuperating from a brain-bleeding seizure late in 2006.
Democrats knew they would lose Monday's vote and spent most of the day accusing Republicans of using parliamentary tactics to dodge an Iraq debate sure to embarass the president.
"They may succeed today, but they won't succeed beyond today," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
"There will be a debate on this war, it may not be this week, it may not be this bill, it may not be this resolution, there will be a debate because the American people made it clear in the last election it is time for a new direction," Durbin added.
Republicans denied ducking an Iraq debate and pointed to the unanimous GOP opposition to the parameters Democrats set for the vote. Republicans sought a debate on the Warner-Levin resolution plus a vote on a resolution supporting the Iraq troop surge and a separate resolution rejecting any future effort to cut off funds for ongoing military operations in Iraq.
"We're not stalling," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "We're using ... the power of a robust minority to make sure that we get fair treatment. We're happy to have this debate, we're ready to have this debate. But not on terms dictated to us in this fashion."
Democrats said they would enter into a second round of negotiations with Republicans on how to proceed to debate Iraq resolutions.
"We must heed the results of the November elections and the wishes of the American people," said Majority Leader Harry Reid.
All of the resolutions in question are non-binding and have no effect on Bush policy in Iraq, but Democrats sought passage of a measure critical of the president's new Iraq policy. It was the first time Democrats had scheduled a sustained debate on the war since they won control over Congress in last fall's midterm elections.
McConnell called for equal treatment for an alternative measure, backed by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., saying Congress should neither cut nor eliminate funding for troops in the field. That measure takes no position on the war or the president's decision to deploy additional forces.
Democrats launched a withering attack on Bush's war policy in the run-up to the vote.
"The American people do not support escalation. Last November, voters made it clear they want a change of course, not more of the same," said Reid. "The president must hear from Congress, so he knows he stands in the wrong place, alone."
The war has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel so far, and costs are counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The administration in recent days asked Congress for $245 billion more to cover the costs of the conflict through 2008.
Behind the procedural quarrel lay uncertainty about the verdict the Senate would ultimately reach on Bush's decision to send 21,500 additional troops. Democrats hoped to gain enough Republican votes to pass the measure expressing disagreement with Bush's decision, and to send the commander in chief an extraordinary wartime rebuke on a bipartisan vote.
It was an outcome that the White House and Senate Republican leadership hoped to avoid. They concentrated on a relatively small number of swing votes, many of them belonging to GOP senators expected to be on the ballot in 2008.
Gregg's alternative said Congress should not take "any action that will endanger United States military forces in the field, including the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field, as such an action with respect to funding would undermine their safety or harm their effectiveness in pursuing their assigned missions."
The measure advanced by Democrats and Warner said the same thing, but it also says the Senate "disagrees with the 'plan' to augment our forces by 21,500 and urges the president instead to consider all options and alternatives."
Republicans and Democrats carried out their clash as 10 members of "Code Pink, "an anti-war group, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct during a protest in front of McCain's office in a building across the street from the Capitol. McCain, a likely Republican presidential candidate, opposes the measure expressing disagreement with the increase in troops.
"They were absolutely compliant, peaceful," Sgt. Kimberly Schneider said of the protesters.
FOX News' Major Garrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.