Senate fails to pass resolution against troop surge

Jill Zuckman
Chicago Tribune

WASHINGTON - The Senate expressed strong, bipartisan disapproval of President Bush's policy on Iraq in a rare Saturday session, but lawmakers nevertheless failed to end their debate and pass a non-binding resolution.

One day after the House issued its stinging rebuke to Bush's plan to boost the number of troops in Iraq, the Senate was unable to muster the 60 votes necessary to end a Republican filibuster and pass what has become an important symbol of resistance to the war.

It was the second time in recent days that the Senate was stymied by parliamentary rules requiring the consent of a supermajority before any action could be taken on the anti-war resolution.

The vote was 56-34, with 7 Republicans joining 49 Democrats. Both Illinois senators, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, voted to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on the resolution.

Frustrated Democrats vowed to continue to press the Iraq issue in the coming weeks on a bill to implement the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission. But they conceded that the resolution itself is dead. Meanwhile, the administration has already begun shoring up combat troops in Baghdad by 21,500 regardless of congressional action.

"The Senate is not done with this issue," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., declared after the vote. "It's too important to be brushed aside."

Angry Republicans insisted that the language in question would demoralize American soldiers fighting in Iraq. And they rejected assertions that their filibuster was preventing the Senate from debating the merits of the war strategy.

"Here is the truth that the American people need to know: Republicans in the Senate have not prevented any debate over the war in Iraq," said Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.. "We are debating the war again today. We have debated the war in the past and we will continue to debate the war in the future."

The fact that Congress was debating the war issue at all stemmed from the voters' decision in November to throw Republicans out of office and hand control of the legislative branch to the Democrats.

Sitting solemnly as the roll was called, senators stood one at a time and answered aye or nay as their name was called. A number of Republicans decided to skip the vote altogether, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was campaigning for president in Iowa.

But other presidential candidates hastily returned from campaign swings in New Hampshire and South Carolina to cast their vote, including Obama, Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Christopher Dodd, D-Conn..

Many senators expressed disgust that they had been dragged into work on the weekend, accusing Democrats of gamesmanship.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., complained that the Senate was "playing stupid political games" as Reid refused to allow debate on multiple resolutions. And he challenged those that oppose the war to vote to cut off funding, rather than supporting a message of disapproval.

"This is a very, very sad Saturday for the U.S. Senate on the heels of a disaster in the U.S. House, where a majority, a bare majority, of the House wants to send a political message at a time of war that doesn't keep one person from being shot at," Graham said.

The House vote rebuking Bush's war plan was 246-182, with 17 Republicans voting in the majority.

Nevertheless, prominent Senate Republicans such as John Warner of Virginia, a former Secretary of the Navy, argued it was time to move forward, end debate and vote on the resolution.

"We do so because we only wish to express a measure of disagreement on one basic point, an important one, with our president," said Warner, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee. "We're a co-equal part of our government - we have the right to respectfully disagree."

Altogether, five Republicans changed their votes Saturday from the one they cast days earlier to prevent the Senate from voting on the resolution.

"In my view, it is most important that the Senate speak out on Iraq. If we continue to debate whether there should be a debate while the House of Representatives acts, the Senate will become irrelevant," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the switchers. "To paraphrase the Roman adage: `The Senate should not fiddle while Iraq burns.'"

With the shadow of Vietnam hanging over the debate, lawmakers said they felt a special duty to take a public stand on the war, nearly four years after it began.

"Just like in the days of Vietnam, the pressure will mount, the president will find he has no strategy, he will have to change his strategy, and the vast majority of troops will be taken out of harm's way and come home," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who accused the GOP of "tying itself into a pretzel" to avoid a vote.

Many senators said Congress never authorized the president to use force to quell a civil war, calling the conflict between the Sunnis and the Shias untenable and unwinnable.

"It may be called a surge, but I believe it is a plunge - a plunge into a sectarian cauldron, a plunge into the unknown and perhaps the unknowable," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

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