WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats will keep the Senate in session this weekend to force debate on a House-drafted nonbinding resolution opposing President Bush's troop surge in Iraq.
Eager to regain the upper hand in the debate on Iraq, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the vote on Thursday, saying it was part of a larger Democratic effort to end the war. The decision means a delay in the scheduled President's Day recess, and will force Republicans to confront a "yes" or "no" vote on the president's new Iraq security strategy.
"It's a vote on whether or not Republicans support the surge," Reid said.
Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate will consider the House resolution and no other alternatives dealing with Iraq. Reid has even given up on a resolution by Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., that he championed two weeks ago. At that time, Republicans tied the Senate in procedural knots demanding debate and votes on a separate measure prohibiting Congress from cutting off funds for ongoing military operations in Iraq.
"This is the beginning of a process," Reid said. "This first vote is not going to be obfuscated. The first vote we want to have and the vote we will have is whether we support the troops and oppose the surge."
With no other resolution options, Reid is unlikely to get the 60 votes needed to move toward final passage. The vote should start at 1:45 p.m. and the session recessed by 2:20 p.m. EST, Reid said on the Senate floor late Thursday.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said Democrats want to force Republicans who oppose the surge to prevail upon GOP leaders to drop procedural obstacles to a vote on the troop surge.
"We're voting on this first and we're voting on it clean," Schumer said. "The question is: Where do you stand? Now they can't duck it anymore."
Reid said Republicans can offer other Iraq-related alternatives on subsequent legislation. The next bill due for consideration is designed to implement leftover recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission.
Senate Democrats have sought ways to re-energize their opposition to the president's Iraq troop surge after they were unable to overcome GOP objections to their desire to limit debate on Iraq policy options. The House is due to pass a nonbinding resolution Friday that expresses support for U.S. troops but disagrees with the Iraq troop surge.
Reid has already introduced that measure in the Senate, thereby setting aside all of the collective Senate work on Iraq policy in favor of the House bill.
This unusual tactic amounts to a concession to the House's ability to score political points in the Iraq debate and cedes a degree of the Senate's historic pre-eminence in dealing with military and foreign policy issues.
The House was able to move quickly on its anti-surge resolution because its rules allow the majority party to refuse debate on competing amendments. It also does not require a three-fifths vote for debate to continue on the primary resolution.
House Democrats originally promised House Republicans they would be allowed an alternative to the Democrats' anti-surge resolution, but reversed course when the GOP sought a vote on maintaining Iraq war funds in the future. That issue deeply divides House Democrats so they refused to give House Republicans a chance to debate that question.
Senate Democrats have now adopted a similar tactic, attempting to deny Republican senators not only a chance to debate and vote on future funding of the Iraq war but also on Senate-crafted resolutions on Iraq war policy.
"This is not about the rules of the Senate," Majority Whip Dick Durbin said, defending leadership tactics. "This is a life and death issue."
The nonbinding House resolution will not alter Bush's policy in Iraq or stop the surge of troops into Baghdad, where the emphasis now is on quelling sectarian violence to advance economic stability and eventual political compromises.
FOX News' Major Garrett and Trish Turner contributed to this report.