Senate Democrats this afternoon failed to move forward with a resolution against the president’s troop surge in Iraq that would have excluded any Republican amendments.
“The best way to support the troops is to get the policy right, and today the Republicans prevented us from getting the policy right,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat.
Republicans, however, said they had rebuffed an “unfair” attempt by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to exclude their amendments.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, could not move the Senate closer to a vote on the war for the second time in less than two weeks.
Mr. Reid’s attempt to invoke cloture, or to limit debate to 30 more hours before a vote, was defeated by a vote of 56 to 34, with nine Republicans and one Democrat not voting. Cloture requires 60 votes.
Cloture would have effectively shut out any Republican amendments because of a procedural manuever by Mr. Reid.
Republican leaders wanted to offer an amendment that would vow not to cut off funding for U.S. troops in Iraq.
“The reason we’re here on a Saturday playing these stupid political games […] is because our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are afraid to take up a vote on cutting off funding,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, said the Senate is “moving on” from an anti-surge resolution, which the House passed Friday by a vote of 246-to-182.
Democrats will attempt to address the war by attaching amendments to legislation adopting recommendations from the 9/11 Commission when they return Feb. 27, after a week-long recess for President’s Day.
But Democrats gave no details on how they would try to block the president’s plan to send around 27,000 more troops to Iraq.
House Democratic leaders have outlined a strategy to restrict the use of money they will appropriate for the military next month, in an attempt to limit military options.
Republicans call that a “slow-bleed” approach that will cut off funds for the war, and Mr. Reid gave no indication of whether he will pursue the same strategy in the Senate.
Democrats gained crossover votes yesterday from seven Republicans, up from just two crossovers nearly two weeks ago on an identical vote. But Republicans said they would not be defeated.
“Harry Reid is not going to be able to stuff us on this one,” said an exercised Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, after the vote.
“Every leader thinks he can be a dictator,” said Mr. Lott, who was senate majority leader from 1996 to 2001. “He cannot.”
Republicans were determined not to be portrayed as “blocking debate,” as they were after the last vote.
“Republicans in the Senate have not prevented any debate over the war in Iraq,” said Sen. Jim Bunning, Kentucky Republican, at the beginning of the nearly two-hour debate preceding the vote. “What we have prevented is the majority leader dictating to the minority exactly which resolutions we will vote on.”
Mr. Reid wanted the Senate to vote this weekend, after a successful cloture vote, on the same resolution passed Friday by the House.
There were 17 House Republicans who voted for the non-binding, symbolic resolution opposing President Bush’s surge, while two House Democrats voted against the measure.
Senate Democrats and Republicans both accused one another of trying to avoid political embarassment.
Democrats said Republicans were trying to avoid a vote that would embarass Mr. Bush. Republicans said Democrats were trying to avoid having their anti-war resolution be overshadowed by the Republican amendment.
Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, vowed that Democrats would “be relentless” in their campaign to end the war in Iraq.
“There will be resolution after resolution, amendment after amendment, all forcing this body to do what is has not done for three years: discuss and debate Iraq,” Mr. Schumer said. “Just like in the days of Vietnam, the pressure will mount […] and the vast majority of our troops will have to be taken out of harm’s way.”
A gallery full of spectators yesterday watched the debate preceding the vote, and over 100 persons stood in line outside the Capitol, waiting to enter.
While Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was speaking, a lone protester, wearing an American flag bandanna on her head, rose and shouted, according to eyewitnesses, “3,000 American lives lost. The American people voted bring the troops home.”
As Capitol police officers took the woman out, she shouted, “I yield back the balance of my time,” mocking the phrase senators use after finishing their speeches.