Senate Democrats plan faux filibuster to pressure Republicans on Iraq

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 16, 2007 

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are planning an all-night session Tuesday, daring Republicans to engage in an old-fashioned filibuster over Iraq troop withdrawals rather than just threatening one.

The tactic was unlikely to deliver the 60-vote supermajority that war critics need to bypass procedural hurdles and amend a defense authorization bill so that it would require withdrawing combat troop in four months.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that a little late-night drama might focus more public attention on why the new Democratic majority still hadn't enacted binding antiwar legislation as it had campaigned to do.

"If Republicans insist on blocking a change of course in Iraq, Democrats will give them the opportunity to explain this, lots of opportunity to explain this," Reid said. "We are going to have votes during the night. We're not going to let everybody go home and have a good night's rest."

In the Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, the minority party can slow or block the passage of controversial bills through the threat of endless debate, known as a filibuster. If the minority insists, the party in power needs 60 of 100 votes rather than a simple majority to cut off that debate and move to a final vote.

In modern politics, though, it's rare to have a debate that rages through the night. Instead, leaders agree to a limited debate and then schedule time to see whether the majority has the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.

With at least three Republicans supporting the withdrawal amendment, Reid said he could get a majority vote but was frustrated that the Republican leadership had been successful so far in blocking that vote.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed the notion that a televised filibuster in the middle of the night would hurt Republicans' collective standing. He also said that even as Democrats talked of the importance of holding war-related votes, they'd been making it difficult for Republican war amendments to be considered.

"It produces a level of animosity and unity on the minority side that makes it more difficult for the majority to pass important legislation," McConnell said.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said Republicans would speak on the floor, not just yield to Democrats, but that it wouldn't be a true filibuster because the lawmakers in the minority party weren't the ones who wanted it.

The liberal, antiwar group was planning more than 100 demonstrations around the country Tuesday evening to put pressure on Senate Republicans to agree to a simple-majority vote on the withdrawal amendment by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I.

But Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said of the plan for an all-nighter, "How many sleepless nights have our soldiers and their families spent waiting to find out whether they'll come home alive? It's about time for the Senate to spend at least one sleepless night. Maybe it's only a symbol, but it's an important symbol."

(Renee Schoof contributed to this article.)

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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