Published July 18, 2007
WASHINGTON – The Senate rejected a plan Wednesday to bring home U.S. troops from Iraq by early next year after spending an all-night session debating whether to demand President Bush change the mission.
The 52-47 vote fell short of the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and move toward passage. Four Republicans voted with the Democrats, with one unexpected vote in favor from Susan Collins of Maine, who is seeking re-election next year. She joined three previously known Republicans who support a troop withdrawal plan: Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Gordon Smith of Oregon.
Collins — who also supports troop withdrawals — later issued a statement saying she only voted along with Democrats because she opposed a filibuster of the bill from Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Jack Reed. The statement said she would have voted against the bill had it come to a final vote "because of her opposition to some of its provisions."
Calling for a "significant but responsible withdrawal of American combat troops," she said she will push for adoption of the Iraq Study Group recommendations as well as a separate amendment she has co-sponsored with Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
Connecticut independent Sen. Joe Lieberman voted against the troop withdrawal plan. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who strongly supports the withdrawal approach, voted no as a technical move that allows him, under Senate rules, to bring the troop withdrawal plan back to a vote at a later date.
After the vote, Reid temporarily pulled the defense authorization bill that also includes pay raises for service members, missile defense programming, rules on habeas corpus rights for Guantanamo Bay detainees, equipment development plans and other policies that help shape the military spending bill for the coming fiscal year.
Reid later said the bill's temporary demise will not harm ongoing military operations and would not delay improvements at Walter Reed or delay the 3.5 percent military pay raise also included in the bill. But he left it open-ended as to when the bill would return to the Senate floor.
"Even if this bill had passed yesterday, even if passed today, it would not take effect until next October," Reid said. "I will come back to this bill once it's clear we can make real progress."
The underlying bill, the National Defense Authoriziation Act, authorizes spending for military programs for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and ending Sept. 30, 2008.
Reid blamed Republicans for stalling forward motion.
"We will do everything in our power to change course in Iraq. We will do everything in our power to pass the defense authorization bill. Why? Because we must," Reid said.
But Republicans argued that pulling the bill proves Democrats are only interested in Iraq, not the military overall. As Reid tried to move on to other issues on the Senate floor, including homeland security and education authorization, GOP lawmakers objected, saying that the Senate should stay on defense authorization.
Calling it a "colossal waste of time," Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the previous 24-hours of debate had been an "indignity" for the Senate, but the defense authorization package is still necessary.
The amendment to the defense authorization bill offered by Levin, D-Mich., and Reed, D-R.I., called for combat troops to be out of Iraq by April 8, 2008. Thousands of troops would have been left behind for other missions, such as fighting Al Qaeda terrorists in that country.
"Just about everybody agrees there's no military solution to Iraq," Levin said during the debate. If Republicans get their way and block this change in mission, "We will be denied the opportunity to vote on an issue that just about every American has strong feelings on."
Senate Democrats had staged an all-night debate, complete with cots for lawmakers to sleep off the Senate floor, in a dramatic attempt to wear down Republicans who refuse to vote to begin to bring troops home by fall.
Republicans responded with a yawn — agreeing to stay around and respond to any votes that might be scheduled around-the-clock but remaining steadfast in their opposition to the Democrats' anti-war legislation.
Labeled a publicity stunt by Republicans, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the debate ended up "substituting our amateur theatrics for statesmanship."
"This is nonsense," said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
Added Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., of his Democratic colleagues: "I bet I can stay up longer than they can."
During debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Levin's bill was unclear and wouldn't accomplish what Levin said it would do, and he said the president's security plan should be given until September to see if it works.
"Yesterday, I characterized the Democratic leadership's decision to hold us here through the night as a theatrical display more worthy of Hollywood than Washington. Indeed, anyone who watched it unfold might have thought they were tuning into an episode of 'The Twilight Zone,' " McConnell said.
As the Senate prepared to vote, nearly all the members were seated quietly, and none of the usual ruckus was going on during the vote. A few lawmakers could be seen whispering in conversations of twos and threes.
Throughout the night, the audience for the speeches was sparse despite Reid pushing through a motion on a 41-37 roll-call vote that instructed the Senate sergeant-at-arms to "request the attendance of absent senators" in an effort to keep them near the chamber. Having made his point, Reid than announced there would be no further votes before 5 a.m. EDT.
Thus, most senators got a chance for a few hours of shuteye even while a handful of their colleagues took turns droning on through the night with floor speeches. There was no indication how aggressively the sergeant-at-arms had been in carrying out his official instructions to keep members near the chamber — or whether he was insisting that they be awake.
As the vote was being taken, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice walked over to the Senate side of Capitol Hill where she was to lobby lawmakers on Bush's Iraq policy.
Rice's plans included spending up to five hours in the morning and early afternoon in group and private meetings in both the Senate and House. The focus would be Iraq and other foreign policy issues, including the Middle East, the official said.
While the issue was momentous — a war more than four years in duration, costing more than 3,600 U.S. troops their lives — the proceedings were thick with politics.
MoveOn.org, the anti-war group, announced plans for more than 130 events around the country to coincide with the Senate debate, part of an effort to pressure Republicans into allowing a final vote on the legislation. A candlelight vigil and rally across the street from the Capitol was prominent among them, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., among those attending.
FOX News' Major Garrett and Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.