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Democrats have found out again that they do not have the votes to stop the war in Iraq. They do have the power to bring up the subject again and again in the Senate, and they say they're planning to do that despite another setback this week. After an all-night debate, Republicans blocked a proposal for most U.S. troops to leave Iraq by spring.
Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.
BRIAN NAYLOR: After the empty pizza boxes were carted off and the cots rolled back into storage, members of the U.S. Senate - a few looking a bit worse for wear - found themselves pretty much where they were before the all-night session, deadlocked over Iraq.
Although four Republicans joined the united Democratic ranks, it was not enough. Sixty votes were needed to break the GOP filibuster of an amendment that would call for troop withdrawals beginning in 120 days.
After the vote, Majority Leader Harry Reid said the long debate had not been for naught.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): We spent two days showing America that we're not going to back down, we're going to continue to fight, that if President Bush and his allies in Congress refuse to budge we'll continue to show them the way.
NAYLOR: Using Senate rules, Republican leader Mitch McConnell was able to block the amendment after insisting that it must have 60 votes to pass. Such a super-majority is often required in the Senate, McConnell said, as he attempted to tweak Democrats by invoking a famous line from the movie "Casablanca."
Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): My favorite one was uttered by the actor Claude Rains when he walked into the casino and said, incredulously, Gambling in Casablanca? 60 votes in the Senate is common as gambling in Casablanca.
NAYLOR: Reid, however, was in no mood for cinema trivia.
Sen. REID: This is not a movie we're involved in. This is a debate on one of the most serious issues this country has ever faced.
NAYLOR: Four Republicans joined with Democrats to end the filibuster: Gordon Smith of Oregon, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine. Smith and Collins are both expected to face tough re-election fights next year.
Several other Republicans have recently expressed discomfort with the president's Iraq policy, but yesterday they voted against the Democrats' withdrawal timetable. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said the amendment at hand would have sent a bad message to the nation's friends and enemies.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Every newspaper in every language known to mankind would have had headlines throughout the world that says America begins to withdrawal from Iraq. And our enemy, al-Qaida, would be given hope.
NAYLOR: After the troop withdrawal amendment was blocked, Majority Leader Reid announced he was shelving the underlying defense policy bill - at least for now. The bill contains, among other things, a military pay raise and authority to buy more bomb-resistant vehicles for Iraq. But none of its provisions would take effect until October, so Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the amendment's sponsor, said there's time for more Republicans to be won over.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): And we believe that with time, when we come back to this bill, as soon as we possibly can, that we're going to pick up even more support when the American people see who has voted to change course and who did not.
NAYLOR: Delaying further action on the bill also means Reid can put off votes on other proposed amendments he does not support. One of these would implement all the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, while another would call on the president to draft a new Iraq policy.
It's not clear when the Senate will return to any of these votes, but with the August recess approaching, it may not be until the fall.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.