After four days of frequently impassioned debate on the Iraq war, a vote is expected Friday in the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve a non-binding resolution that expresses support for U.S. troops in Iraq, but condemns President Bush's plan to increase the troop presence in Iraq by more than 20,000.
It's not yet clear if the Senate will vote on a similar resolution, or if that debate will be stymied once again by partisan wrangling.
Like the House, the Senate was to adjourn Friday for a 10-day President's Day recess. But Thursday on the Senate floor, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) got up and said, in effect, "not so fast." She wanted the Senate to debate and vote on an Iraq resolution before leaving town. She said the Senate should not adjourn while it's stalemated.
But Snowe's plea failed to move Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate majority leader.
"She's coming late to the party," Reid said of Snowe's proposal. "Last week, when senators had the opportunity to hold an important debate about Iraq, she and others chose to prevent that debate."
Indeed, even though Snowe backed a resolution opposing more troops in Iraq, she had joined with all but two other Republicans to oppose moving to a vote on that resolution, on the grounds that Republicans were not allowed to offer a rival resolution of their choice. It only takes 41 senators to block a vote.
That move also spared many Republicans from having to vote on a resolution the White House strongly opposes. Still, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the minority leader, insisted it was Democrats who were holding things up:
"Now, Senate Republicans are anxious to have the Iraq debate, are not trying to avoid it in any way, whatsoever."
McConnell proposed votes on four Iraq resolutions, starting with one that vows Congress won't cut off funding for any troops in Iraq. Reid made a counter offer of just two resolutions: the one being debated in the House, and one backed by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that sets benchmarks and supports the troop buildup. McConnell objected.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) implored the leaders to strike a deal in order to avoid sending "a picture to the American people of gridlock and paralysis."
Noting the Senate's reputation as "the world's greatest deliberative body," Specter warned, "we're about to cede that title to the House of Representatives."
Meanwhile, some of the Republicans who last week voted against moving ahead with the Iraq debate were also having second thoughts — such as Sen. John Warner of Virginia.
At some point, the Senate has to debate the war, Warner said, and the leaders hopefully can agree on which resolutions will be considered.
But those leaders could not agree, and after a closed door meeting of Democrats, Reid called a news conference to demand an up or down Senate vote on the resolution being debated in the House. He said the Senate will have an Iraq vote on Saturday.
A few hours later, McConnell told reporters Republicans will block a vote again Saturday, because discussion needs to continue on an appropriate way to conduct the debate.
More likely, a war of words will continue — just as the five extra brigades the president has called for will continue moving toward Iraq.