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Reid Promises Big Senate Sleepover on Iraq Vote

Are you an insomniac? If so, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has just the remedy: an all-night session of the Senate. [IMGCAP(1)]

In an effort to make the point that Republicans are filibustering not just an amendment to force President Bush to change tactics in Iraq but also the Defense Department authorization bill as a whole, Reid is using the old media-friendly standby of bringing in a mess of cots and scheduling Senators to talk into the wee hours tonight.

“We are not going to let people go home and get a good night’s rest,” Reid said Monday of his fellow Senators. Instead, he said the whole lot of them will be on call for votes during the night — most likely, mandatory quorum-call votes that simply require Senators to be present on the floor.

But that’s not all. Reid also dangled the specter of another all-nighter later this week — presumably when Republicans balk at bringing debate on the entire bill to a close, but Reid declined to specify the reason.

“My worst fears on this bill … have just been realized,” Reid said dramatically on the floor Monday afternoon, after Republicans objected to his request to have a simple majority vote on the Democrats’ premier amendment to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by April 30, 2008.

The objection — formally registered by Senate Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) — means the Democrats will have to overcome a 60-vote hurdle in order to beat back a filibuster. That vote is expected to occur Wednesday, following the staged filibuster.

Reid and his deputies explained their rationale for one or two sleepless nights this week at a press conference Monday and denied they were staging a political stunt to promote an amendment sponsored by Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.).

“It should not be easy to hide behind the 60-vote rule when there is such an urgency to bring an end to the war,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

Reid complained that Senators have gotten “lazy” about filibustering in recent years. Indeed, objections to proceeding by unanimous consent are not usually followed by an endless talkfest as in the earlier days of the republic.

Republicans said Reid’s decision to force a traditional filibuster was unnecessary, because they would have agreed to artificially set 60-vote thresholds on not only the Levin-Reed amendment, but also a nonbinding proposal from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to express the sense of the Senate that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would have dire consequences.

“It’s a shame that we find ourselves in this position,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor Monday. “The sensible, logical way to set up this debate … would have been to do it by consent with two 60-vote thresholds. This continued effort to thwart the ability of the minority to get amendments in the queue and to get them voted on is not a very, I might say, very effective way, really, to legislate because it produces a level of animosity and unity on the minority side that makes it more difficult for the majority to pass important legislation.”

In a bit of a slap at the majority’s plans for tonight, McConnell filed cloture — or moved to limit debate — on the Cornyn proposal in a maneuver designed to force a vote immediately after the vote on the Democrats’ amendment. Filing cloture is the only way McConnell could ensure a vote on the measure.

Regardless of whether anyone sleeps tonight, the end result for Levin-Reed likely will be failure. But while it probably will fall short of 60 votes, Democrats are poised to garner as many as 53 votes, a potential new high-water mark for their efforts to force the president’s hand on Iraq.

The outcome on Cornyn is less certain. Because it is nonbinding, Democrats may decide it is meaningless and support it. Or conversely, they could decide it’s meaningless and oppose it.

Even with the outcome largely a foregone conclusion, today and tonight’s Democratic offensive on pulling out of Iraq will include Iraq veterans visiting GOP Senators’ offices to plead for the Levin-Reed amendment, House Members pontificating from their side of the Capitol and staged “counterfilibusters” at home-state GOP Senate offices, according to a Senate Democratic strategy memo.

Once the curtain closes on the political theater surrounding Levin-Reed, at least two alternative proposals backed by Republicans, and a few Democrats, could take center stage. However, Reid has yet to guarantee a vote on either of them, saying their fate depends on the outcome of the Levin-Reed debate.

(There was one indication Monday that Reid might simply interrupt or even pull the Defense bill following the vote on Levin-Reed. Democratic staffers were put on notice that a reconciliation bill regarding student loans could see action as early as Wednesday.)

One proposal by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) would make the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group the policy of the United States, including provisions advising a change in mission and the establishment of diplomatic negotiations with neighboring Middle Eastern states.

The other, offered by Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), would require the president to come up with a plan to refocus the mission in Iraq from combat operations to support, training and counterterrorism functions. That plan would have to be delivered by Oct. 16.

But Reid and other Democratic leaders have derided the two plans as giving the president too much leeway to continue with his current strategy in Iraq.

Of course, Reid acknowledged Monday that even the Democratic plan would not actually end the war.

“It certainly winds it down significantly,” Reid said.

Reid also has made clear he wants the vote on the Levin-Reed amendment to be the focal point of the debate and doesn’t want to muddy the waters by having Democrats support multiple amendments to change the mission in Iraq. That means both also are likely to have to tangle with the 60-vote barrier.

“I don’t know if either of them is going to get more than a handful of Democratic votes,” said one senior Senate Democratic aide. The aide added that it’s unlikely that the proposals would even get all Republican votes, considering that the White House opposes the Alexander-Salazar amendment and has said the Warner-Lugar plan is premature.

Meanwhile, the entire bill could be in jeopardy if Reid decides to try forcing final passage this week. Republicans, such as Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.), have said the nearly $650 billion bill has more to do with the entire defense of the nation than just the Iraq War, and they want to vote on other issues.

Last week, Lott indicated that if Reid files cloture on the bill this week, which appears likely, Republicans probably would block an end to debate.

“How many votes do we have to have on Iraq to actually vote on the Defense authorization?” Lott said.

But Reid doesn’t agree that the debate needs to go further than the handful of Iraq proposals on tap. If Levin-Reed were to pass, “We’d have a pretty good bill without any other amendments,” he said.

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