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They're holding an all-nighter in the U.S. Senate this evening. Senators were told to be ready to cast votes from now until dawn. It happens very rarely, but the majority - Democrats - are trying to force Republicans' hands. The GOP has threatened to filibuster a plan that require troop withdrawals from Iraq within four months.
NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA: It was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who decided to call his Republican colleagues bluff. They had insisted on unlimited time to debate, bringing up for consideration a troop withdrawal amendment. And Reid turned the tables by inviting them to debate the issue all night.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): If Republicans insists on blocking the change of course in Iraq, we have no alternative to keep them in session to have them explain their obstruction. It's their filibuster. Let them talk about it. Republicans will need to choose whether they want to protect the president or protect our troops.
WELNA: For Senate Democrats, tonight's all-night debate could prove something of a bonanza, and not only refocuses attention on an Iraq debate that's lasted for days, but it also forces Republicans to defend an unpopular and politically costly war.
Illinois Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat, said today that Republicans want a 60-vote test for the so-called Levin-Reed Amendment because they know a simple majority already supports it.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): It's an amendment, which establishes a timetable for American troops to start coming home. It's a timetable for ending this war responsibly, ending our combat role by the spring of next year. It is the only amendment pending, which is specific and really will change the policy and direction in Iraq.
Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): We're happy to have this debate tonight.
WELNA: That's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who tried putting the best face on having to make good on his filibuster threat.
Sen. McCONNELL: It's perfectly fine with us to stay here today in this evening to discuss this very important issue. I couldn't agree with my friend from Illinois more that it is the significant issue in the country at this particular juncture.
WELNA: Texas Republican John Cornyn's take on tonight's all-nighter was a bit more cutting.
Senator JOHN CORNYN (Republican, Texas): We're going to have big political theater here tonight. I guess we'll have a lot of fun staying up late and having a Senate slumber party for the benefit of organizations like moveon.org.
WELNA: But President Bush's supporters also have their allies. More than 20 Iraq veterans assembled as Vets for Freedom at a GOP news conference this afternoon. Their leader was former Army First Lieutenant Pete Hegseth.
Mr. PETE HEGSETH (Executive Director, Vets for Freedom): These guys represent thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are deeply troubled at the defeat of sentiment emanating from Capitol Hill. We think we can win in Iraq. We know we can win in Iraq. We've seen it. We've been there. We understand the stakes and setting a deadline for defeat is just not an option.
WELNA: Still, Oregon Republican Gordon Smith, who faces a tough reelection bid next year, said today, it's time for U.S. troops to leave Iraq.
Senator GORDON SMITH (Republican, Oregon): I think just staying the course and hoping something better will occur, leaning on a weak read for too long. It will break us.
WELNA: Smith was joined by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe, who said whether the White House wants it or not, troops levels in Iraq are going to have to come down because they simply can't be sustained beyond next spring.
Fellow Maine Republican Susan Collins, who also faces a tough reelection bid, says she's still undecided on whether she'll vote tomorrow to break the filibuster.
Senator SUSAN COLLINS (Republican, Maine): Well, I have to decide whether this is going to be perceived as a procedural vote to go forward, which I want to go forward with this debate. I want to have a full debate on all of the alternatives or whether it's going to be the last vote on this issue.
WELNA: Majority Leader Reid would not say today whether any other Iraq amendments will be considered.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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