Senate halts Iraq plan shift

WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats halted their quest to change President Bush’s war strategy Wednesday after Republicans blocked a proposal to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq.

After the vote, which followed a rare all-night debate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., startled colleagues by announcing that the Senate would not vote on several other proposals intended to force Bush to revisit his war plans.

Although war critics in both parties had supported the measures, Reid and other Democratic leaders dismissed them as too weak. Instead, they are holding firm in their bid to persuade GOP critics of Bush’s Iraq policy to embrace more aggressive Democratic measures to begin withdrawing troops.

Reid’s move was hailed by anti-war groups, which have urged Democrats not to compromise. But the majority leader’s decision may also effectively provide Bush with an opportunity that he has wanted: another 60 days to make his case that the war is making progress.

Wednesday’s 52-47 vote signaled that a slim Senate majority supports bringing home most combat forces by May 1, 2008, and came amid indications in recent weeks that a growing number of Republicans are concerned about progress in Iraq. Although Democrats won four Republican defectors, they fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to overcome the GOP’s procedural objections.

After the results were tallied, Reid asked GOP leaders to accept simple-majority votes. When they refused, Reid announced that the debate would be suspended, possibly until after Labor Day or until Republicans dropped their filibuster. He called the 60-vote requirement “a new math that was developed by the Republicans to protect the president.”

The vote followed 24 straight hours of Iraq speeches on the Senate floor, stretching from 11 a.m. Tuesday until Wednesday’s 11 a.m. vote. Cots that had been wheeled in for the overnight session were wheeled back out to a congressional storage facility, after being used by just six senators.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the all-night debate “serious and important,” while reminding Reid that the 60-requirement had become a standard hurdle for controversial measures in a narrowly divided Senate, including when Democrats were the minority party in recent years. The war proposals are amendments to the annual defense authorization bill, which includes a military pay raise and Iraq equipment upgrades. Reid’s decision halted progress on that legislation, promoting criticism from Republicans.


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