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Reid Halts Work on Defense Bill After Iraq Amendment Fails

As expected, Senate Democrats on Wednesday fell well short of the votes needed to end a GOP filibuster of their efforts to bring an end to the Iraq War, prompting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to yank the Defense authorization bill and accuse Republicans of obstructing progress on the legislation.

The key amendment, proposed by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), got 52 votes in favor of proceeding and 47 against, well short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. The measure would have begun the redeployment of U.S. troops in Iraq in 120 days.

Members took the unusual step of voting from their desks, and the chamber was particularly somber as Senators recorded their votes. Four Republicans — Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Gordon Smith (Ore.) — voted in favor of moving forward on the measure.

With more than 70 of his colleagues looking on, Reid announced his decision to halt work on the measure, telling his colleagues that “we can make no progress on the war in Iraq or on this bill … [because of a] handful of dedicated obstructionists.” Although Reid’s decision halts work on the bill for now, he did say he had asked the Armed Services Committee, along with Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.), to try to work out a process for reviving the bill.

“We’ll come back to this bill as soon as it’s clear that we can make real progress,” Reid said.

Following the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) gave an unusually impassioned speech defending his party’s filibuster of the bill, arguing that an amendment of such magnitude should require 60 votes and alleging that it has become standard practice to do so.

“Sixty votes are as common in this town as gambling is in Casablanca,” McConnell said, referencing the movie classic.

Republicans also signaled they would look to slow down work in the chamber in retaliation for Reid forcing their hand on Iraq. Republicans on Tuesday evening objected to allowing committees to meet, and following the collapse of the Defense bill, Republicans refused to agree to a unanimous consent agreement put forward by Reid to proceed to a Homeland Security bill.

Reid then moved the chamber on to a higher education bill, which contains reconciliation provisions and thus, under the chamber’s budget rules, cannot be filibustered.

The vote on Levin-Reed followed an all-night debate on Iraq during which the two sides took turns firing partisan volleys at one another before a relatively crowded gallery of spectators.

The best fireworks of the night came during a candlelight “call to action” outside the Capitol organized by House and Senate Democratic leaders and the liberal organization.

The gathering — which kicked off at 9:30 following the first of three “live quorum” votes called by Reid during the all-night session — drew a crowd of several hundred anti-war activists and Democratic aides, as well as dozens of reporters and cameramen.

Although designed to be show of unity between Congressional leaders and the public, speeches by Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were repeatedly interrupted by a handful of hecklers in the crowd. The rabble-rousers — all of whom are vehemently anti-war — taunted the two leaders for supporting the war before opposing it, failing to take up articles of impeachment against President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and even supporting Israel. One woman even seemed to take her word choice from the GOP rhetorical playbook, castigating Pelosi during her speech for “Democrat complicity” in the botched prosecution of the Iraq War.

While Reid originally had planned to hold procedural live quorum votes throughout the night, during the midnight vote members of his party lobbied Reid on the floor to do away with an expected 3 a.m. vote. After much wrangling, Reid agreed to put off a quorum vote until 5 a.m., giving Members not scheduled to speak several hours to duck out of the Capitol to catch some much-needed sleep at home.

The decision prompted a quick exodus from Capitol Hill. Tired Members who left the Capitol for the safety of waiting cars; however, they were met by a cadre of CODEPINK ladies and transvestites who — depending on whether they agreed with the Member’s position on Iraq — either booed or cheered each exiting Member.

Their excitement for one of their own, however, may have resulted in the escape of PINK-Enemy No. 1 — McConnell. As Snowe, who broke with her normally muted fashion choices in favor of an intensely bright pink ensemble, exited the building, the protesters quickly gathered around her, cheering the clearly stunned lawmaker.

As the CODEPINK members high-fived each other and shook hands with one of their favorite Republicans, McConnell coolly strolled out of the building past the protesters, calmly settled into his waiting black sport utility vehicle and made a leisurely getaway, unmolested by protesters.

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