- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

The Senate’s informal caucus of presidential hopefuls faces its first test in balancing their jobs with their White House ambitions tomorrow: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a key vote on the Iraq war.

The Nevada Democrat yesterday said he did not take members’ 2008 aspirations — or planned weekend visits to Iowa and New Hampshire — into consideration for his procedural move to debate President Bush’s plan to send more troops to Iraq.

“We hope everyone will be here,” Mr. Reid told reporters. “It’s an important vote.”

At least six senators are considering or actively pursuing presidential bids, and most had trips planned to early primary or caucus states in anticipation of Congress’ first weeklong recess this year.

The news sent the 2008 hopefuls scrambling to rearrange schedules or, in one case, to insist their candidate potentially missing the vote was a non-story.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, was the first to say he would scrap plans for an Iowa visit to make sure he participated in the 1:45 p.m. Iraq vote.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, has a much-publicized visit to a high school in Dover, N.H., from 9:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow.

She already had to cancel one visit to the Granite State because of a death in the family, but staffers said she will keep the Dover event, fly back for the vote and attempt to keep another scheduled campaign stop in Portsmouth, N.H.

As for Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat with plans to travel to South Carolina, the schedule was a work in progress.

“We’re still trying to find that out,” one Obama staffer said when asked if the senator would still hold a 10 a.m. town-hall meeting in Orangeburg, S.C., tomorrow.

He is slated to deliver the keynote address at Virginia’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond tomorrow night. But he will head to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, early next week, plans that Mr. Reid’s scheduling could pressure him to change.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, will stay for the vote. He was scheduled to attend an all-day convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, but he will try to do both.

There was no indication Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, would reschedule his morning town-hall forum in Des Moines, Iowa.

Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat, had a full slate of events planned in South Carolina, starting with a breakfast in Columbia and ending with a happy hour in Myrtle Beach.

His staff did not have an answer last night.

Democratic leaders were unapologetic, though Mr. Reid did say he had tried to be accommodating.

“This is an unfortunate fact of life that they’re going to have to deal with in the weeks and months to come,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Mr. Reid, clearly irritated, yesterday further threatened to keep members in town for Iraq debate next week, refusing to speculate on which days or how long the chamber would be in session.

It is not his own Democratic senators who are making him angry. Mr. Reid, instead, is pushing back against Republicans who last week blocked debate on a different Iraq resolution.

Republicans who oppose the president’s plan still voted with their party to stop debate on that measure because they wanted to consider amendments and other versions of Iraq resolutions. This week, the same Republicans had threatened to resist the recess adjournment if they could not vote on Mr. Bush’s troop-surge plan.

Democratic leaders said yesterday they were “calling the bluff” of Republicans who wanted to stay in town.

Mr. Reid said he wanted to force an “up or down” vote on the House’s nonbinding resolution that states lawmakers support the troops but oppose the president’s plan.

Aides conceded privately it will be difficult for Democrats to get the 60 votes needed to pass the procedural vote, but Mr. Reid said if cloture passes, he would proceed immediately to debating war policy.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, in 2004 faced scrutiny for missing dozens of votes during his presidential campaign.

However, some 2008 staffers privately said yesterday the importance of the procedural “cloture” vote compared with overall Iraq policy was debatable.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, argued the vote is more than a political maneuver.

“That’s why the cloture vote on Saturday is a crucial vote, not just for the moment, or for the week, but for the history of America because it will say where do you stand. … Are you for the escalation or are you not?”

Plenty of other members weren’t planning to be in Washington tomorrow at the beginning of a recess, and a three-day weekend to boot.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut has skipped previous Saturday votes and political events because he observes the Jewish Sabbath. Aides for the independent, who caucuses with the Democrats, did not respond to inquiries as to whether he would vote tomorrow.

Mr. Lieberman is one of the few members of the Democratic Caucus who supports Mr. Bush’s Iraq plan.

Charles Hurt contributed to this report.

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