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Senators Pull All-Nighter Debating Iraq


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer, in for Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

As their debate stretched through the night, senators spoke more slowly. The pauses were longer. The subject was Iraq and it was the focus of an all-night discussion. A weary-eyed Senator Hillary Clinton took the Senate floor around 4:30 this morning.

Senator HILLARY CLINTON (Democrat, New York): And yet I wrote several weeks ago to Secretary Gates and the chairman Of the Joint Chiefs, General Pace, asking whether there is planning.

INSKEEP: Supporters of President Bush refused to cut off debate on a proposal to start moving U.S. troops out of Iraq so Democratic leaders said they will have all the debate that lawmakers can stand.

NPR's David Welna has been listening to the talk. And David, how seriously are lawmakers taking this exercise?

DAVID WELNA: Well, Steve, I think it's been a mixture of dutiful weariness if you're talking about the ruling Democrats and exasperated annoyance when it comes to the Republicans who have called the night everything from a charade to a circus to kabuki theater.

Most of the session was taken up with senators of both parties alternating in delivering prepared speeches to a nearly empty Senate chamber. And more than anything, it reminded me of a class being put in all-night detention at school with Majority Leader Harry Reid taking attendance every few hours in what they call a live quorum call, where all the senators supposedly had to show up or risk being hauled in by the Senate sergeant-at-arms. That didn't actual happen.

This went on until about midnight. But then Reid relented after entreaties from California Democrat Barbara Boxer to give the many elderly members of the Senate a break. So Reid dispensed with the 3:00 AM live quorum call that had been planned and senators were actually able to get some sleep. Though it's not clear whether any senators actually used the 20 or so cots that Democrats had installed in a room that was off the Senate chamber.

INSKEEP: Okay, so this is all-night theater. But, of course, the subject is very serious and some of the debate was quite serious. I want to listen here to an excerpt of an exchange from last evening. We're going to hear Republican Senator John Warner and Democrat Carl Levin, a couple of respected senators. And we're going to start here with Warner, who does not want Congress to force troops out of Iraq too quickly.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): If we make the wrong decision now and precipitously fix a date for pullout, all that sacrifice might be lost. And I am certain that my colleague shares with me that one of the goals that we should have is to make certain that those losses were not in vain.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): I think we all…

Sen. WARNER: I say to my colleague…

Sen. LEVIN: I think if you would yield, we all share that view. If the amendment is anything, it is not precipitous. This is coming after a great deal of debate. We've had a vote on this. The Senate voted to do something very similar to this, it was vetoed.

Sen. WARNER: But, Senator, it looks like a zigzag course that this nation has taken. Mr. President, I yield the floor and there are other senators who are scheduled to speak.

WELNA: Yes, this is really a remarkable exchange, very unusual actually in the night of debate - two senators actually going back and forth with each other. Levin is currently the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and Warner is the former chairman.

It was very thoughtful and dignified, but the two men clearly have serious differences. Warner insisting that the Senate wait until mid-September when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are going to give a report on Iraq to the Senate. And Levin is saying no, we have to act now. Waiting two more months means just that many deaths of American soldiers in Iraq.

INSKEEP: The thing they're debating is an amendment that would require withdrawal to begin within four months. Is there any chance that anybody's mind was changed by this night of debate on that question?

WELNA: I'm not sure. I did talk to Maine Republican Susan Collins yesterday who said that she had not made up her mind as of then. She spoke last night, still gave no indication whether she was going to switch. But we do have three Republicans who say they are going to vote with Democrats for the amendment that Carl Levin is sponsoring. And at the same time, it doesn't look like they're going to get the 60 votes that they need to cut off this filibuster. So, in all probability, this amendment to force troop withdrawals will die.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

WELNA: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's David Welna, who covers Congress and has been covering this all-night debate on Iraq. You can find out the worst way to make friends and influence people in the Senate, as well other analysis from NPR's Washington editor Ron Elving in his Watching Washington column, which is at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Welna
David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.
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