WASHINGTON – An amendment calling for a short timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq went down in a lopsided defeat Thursday, failing 86-13. The Senate also rejected a second amendment that had a longer and more open-ended schedule for withdrawal. That failed 39-60.
The tallies were taken after finishing up about an hour and a half of debate on the Democratic measures following a late night session that ended near midnight Wednesday. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said Democrats were pleased with the outcome.
"Being bogged down in Iraq like we have been makes America less safe, but that's apparently what Republicans want," Reid, D-Nev., said after the vote.
"Senate Democrats coalesced strongly this morning around a policy of changing the course in a balanced and common sense way," added Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who sponsored the second amendment.
The first failed amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, a former and possible future presidential candidate respectively, called for troops to be out of Iraq and redeployed elsewhere in the region by July 1, 2007.
"This is not cut and run. This is a smart way to win the War on Terror," Kerry said in the debate Wednesday.
The other amendment, sponsored by Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, called for troops to begin pulling out of Iraq on Dec. 31 of this year. The nonbinding resolution would not set a deadline of when all forces must be withdrawn.
One Republican voted for the measure, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Mark Dayton of Minnesota and Independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont voted against the plan.
Both amendments are attached to the annual defense planning bill, which also was getting a test vote for final passage. Republicans opposed both amendments to the authorization bill, saying that a timeline could cause Iraq to descend into civil war and may embolden terrorists.
"Withdrawal is not an option, surrender is not a solution," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.
“Setting arbitrary timelines for withdrawal of our troops before we have finished the job sends a devastating message to our troops and allies, and gives the enemy a strategic advantage in this war,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. “The recent death of Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and the progress in establishing the Iraqi government are both testaments to the progress being made there. But our work in Iraq is far from over, and we must now capitalize on this momentum by recommitting ourselves to victory there – not cut and run when things get tough.
Polls show voters are weary about the war that's in its fourth year, a fact that Democrats are counting on even if they fail to win any vote on withdrawal. They say it is a stark reminder of the choices voters face this fall, and the ongoing Senate Republican march toward Bush administration recommendations.
"What you had with Republicans was a rubber stamp approach, voting in lockstep to support a status quo. Whatever the White House wants, all the Republicans" want, Levin said. "We believe it's time for a change. Eighty percent of us voted that way. It is a strong consensus statement by Democrats."
The administration says U.S. troops will stay in Iraq until Iraqi security forces can defend the country against a lethal insurgency that rose up after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
With 127,000 U.S. forces currently in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, head of the Multinational Force in Iraq, was in Washington, D.C., Thursday, but gave no specific numbers for any drawdown of troops.
Casey is on record saying he believed "fairly substantial reductions" in troop levels could occur this year as long as Iraq's political process remained on track. However, those optimistic predictions have been tempered somewhat by increasing violence and the fact that it took much longer than U.S. officials anticipated for Iraqis to form a sovereign government.
One military official told FOX News that Casey is still aiming to bring U.S. force levels in Iraq down as close as he can to the 100,000 level by the end of this year. The key, as always, will be conditions on the ground, including the ability of Iraqi forces to take over the security of their country and the strength of the insurgency.
Meanwhile, Republicans were happy to let the Senate debate continue for nearly two weeks, suggesting that the more Democratic disunity demonstrated, the better for the GOP come Election Day.
Two Republican lawmakers also took note that President Bush's justification for war — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — has turned out to be true despite claims otherwise.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., released a newly declassified military intelligence report late Wednesday that shows coalition forces in Iraq have recovered 500 weapons containing degraded sarin or mustard nerve agents, produced before the 1991 Gulf War, but stored in the country. Saddam had denied having weapons of mass destruction after the war and weapons inspectors had been unable to locate large stashes of weapons during their post-war inspections.
Democrats downplayed the intelligence report, saying that a lengthy 2005 report from the top U.S. weapons inspector contemplated that such munitions would be found. A defense official told FOX News that the weapons probably can't be used in their current form because of their age, but the report notes that they are still hazardous and possibly lethal to coalition forces.
FOX News' Molly Henneberg, Mike Emanuel and Nick Simeone and The Associated Press contributed to this report.