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Senate holds all-nighter on Iraq war

David Espo Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Democrats steered the Senate through an attention-grabbing, all-night session Tuesday to dramatize opposition to the Iraq war but conceded they were unlikely to gain the votes needed to advance troop withdrawal legislation blocked by Republicans.

“Our enemies aren’t threatened by talk-a-thons, and our troops deserve better than publicity stunts,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader.

McConnell and many other Republicans favor waiting until September before considering any changes to the Bush administration’s current policy. They have vowed to block a final vote on the Democrats’ attempt to require a troop withdrawal to begin within 120 days.

“We have no alternative except to keep them in session to explain their obstruction,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

He planned several votes on a motion to instruct Senate Sergeant-at-arms Terrance Gainer to “request the attendance of absent senators,” in an effort to keep members near the chamber. On the first vote, senators rejected the measure 47-44. But it passed 41-37 on a second vote just after midnight. Having made his point, Reid announced there would be no more votes until 5 a.m. EDT and retired to a cot set up in a parlor adjacent to his office.

So far, the legislation has drawn the support of three Republicans: Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska.

With a test vote set for today – capping a day and night of debate – Democratic officials conceded they were likely to get 52 or 53 votes at most. That’s very short of the 60 needed to force a final vote on the measure.

While the issue was momentous – a war now in its fifth year costing more than 3,600 U.S. troops their lives – the proceedings were thick with politics.

MoveOn.org, an anti-war group, announced plans for more than 130 events around the country to coincide with the Senate debate, part of an effort to pressure Republicans into allowing a final vote on the legislation.

Inside the Capitol, the session shaped up as the Senate’s first all-nighter since 2003. Then, as now, the Senate staff wheeled about a dozen cots into a room near the chamber for any lawmakers needing them.

But the political roles were reversed. Four years ago, Republicans demanded votes on Bush’s judicial nominees, and Democrats filibustered to avoid certain confirmation of several conservative appointees.

The maneuvering occurred as the Senate debated a broad defense bill that includes a pay raise for the troops, revised regulations for detaining suspects in the war on terror and an increase in the size of the Army and Marines.

Several officials said Reid might set the bill aside for weeks or months without completing it if, as expected, Republicans blocked a final vote on the withdrawal proposal.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Hagel took issue with fellow Republicans who said Bush’s decision to increase troop strength, begun in January, deserves more time to work. “We must change our policy in Iraq,” he said.

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