Senate Democrats Seek Way Back into Iraq Debate The Senate started the ball rolling on a resolution opposing President Bush's plans for a troop increase in Iraq, but couldn't get its act together. Now the House is close to a final vote on the issue, while Senate leaders seek a way to take back the initiative amid procedural hurdles.
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Senate Democrats Seek Way Back into Iraq Debate

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Senate Democrats Seek Way Back into Iraq Debate

Senate Democrats Seek Way Back into Iraq Debate

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

This may be the day that Democrats call the vote they've been trying to get for weeks. It's a vote on the war in Iraq. The resolution expresses support for U.S. troops but condemns President Bush's plan to send more of them to Iraq.

Democrats brought up that measure in the House after they couldn't get a vote in the Senate. And it's still not clear if senators will vote on it, as NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: Like the House, the Senate was to adjourn later today for a 10-day president's day recess. But yesterday on the Senate floor, Maine Republican Olympia Snowe got up and said, in effect, not so fast. She wanted the Senate to debate and vote on an Iraq resolution before leaving town.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): The United States Senate is deadlocked and stalemated, and that's why I object to the motion to adjourn. And I hope that my colleagues will express their objections likewise, irrespective of where you stand on the question.

WELNA: But Snowe's plea failed to move majority leader Harry Reid.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): I say with all due respect, Mr. President, she's coming late to the party. Last week, when senators had the opportunity to hold an important debate about Iraq, she and others chose to prevent that debate.

WELNA: 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. That move also spared many Republicans from having to vote on a resolution the White House strongly opposes.

Still, their leader, Mitch McConnell, yesterday insisted it was Democrats who were holding things up.

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): Senate Republicans are anxious to have the Iraq debate. We're not trying to avoid it in any way whatsoever.

WELNA: McConnell then proposed votes on four separate 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 Republican John McCain, setting benchmarks and supporting the troop buildup. McConnell objected.

Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter.

Senator ARLEN SPECTER (Republican, Pennsylvania): What we have here is that we're close to anarchy.

WELNA: Specter implored the leaders to strike a deal.

Sen. SPECTER: So that this body does not become irrelevant and we do not present a picture to the American people of gridlock and paralysis, but we show that we are still the world's greatest deliberative body, because we're about to cede that title to the House of Representatives, which as we speak is the deliberating, which we are not doing.

WELNA: Meanwhile, some of the Republicans who last week voted against moving ahead with the Iraq debate were having second thoughts. Virginia's John Warner, who'd voted with McConnell and kept his own resolution off the floor, declared outside the Senate chamber it was time to move forward.

Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): I'm going to be deferential from our leadership, to hear them out, but I'm inclined to think that at some point we've got to obtain cloture and move ahead on whatever framework the leaders hopefully can agree on.

WELNA: But those leaders could not agree on a framework. And after a close-door meeting of Democrats, Majority Leader Reid called a news conference to demand an up or down Senate vote on the resolution being debated in the House.

Sen. REID: Now, we know that time is of the essence. That's why the Senate will have another Iraq vote on Saturday.

WELNA: Fellow Democrat Charles Schumer mocked the Republicans who had balked at adjourning.

Senator CHARLES SCHUMER (Democrat, New York): If you don't give us these obfuscatory amendments, we'll make you stay here. That's what they said. Well, right now we're calling their bluff. We're staying here. Now vote yes or no.

WELNA: A few hours later, Minority Leader McConnell told reporters Republicans will show up tomorrow and once again stop Democrats from voting on an Iraq resolution.

Sen. MCCONNELL: We will defeat cloture on the motion to proceed. The discussion will continue over an appropriate way to conduct the debate.

WELNA: More likely, a war of words will continue just as the five extra brigades the president's called for will continue moving toward Iraq.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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