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Sleepless in the Senate | The Nation

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Sleepless in the Senate

Matthew Blake reports from Capitol Hill:

Full disclosure: this humble reporter left the Capitol at 1 am but continued watching on C-Span until 2:30 am before nodding off. The Senate never slept.

Though it was done through the medium of a partly absurd, often tedious "all-night" debate, Democratic politicians have finally seemed to convey what they can and cannot do to stop George Bush's disastrous Iraq War policy.

Last night Democratic Senators talked and talked on an empty Senate floor--and to a Senate park packed with anti-war advocates--about how the chamber must vote now to begin bringing troops home. Not in September when Army General David Petraeus releases a progress report on the "surge" and not in 2009 when a new President assumes office. But antiwar Senators stressed again and again that troop withdrawals cannot happen unless 60 Senators vote to end debate on an amendment that says troops must start leaving Iraq in 120 days.

"We're going to read tomorrow that the Senate voted down the Levin-Reed amendment," co-sponsor Carl Levin of Michigan told a crowd of hundreds of anti-war advocates last night. "No they didn't--they voted to filibuster."

Indeed, the Senate just minutes ago failed to clear the Levin-Reed amendment by a vote of 52 yeas to 47 nays.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who orchestrated the Senate session, had pinned the hopes on ending the war on Senate Republicans like Virginia's John Warner and New Mexico's Pete Domenici, who have spoken out against the war but did vote to end debate on the amendment. For their part, moderate Senate Republicans seem focused on both waiting until September and endorsing the guidelines of the Iraq Study Group Report, which they dismissed not so long ago. "There is a careful sequence of events between now and September," Warner said when he spoke on the Senate floor last night.

While Republicans emphasized careful deliberation and held up copies of the Iraq Study Group Report, some Democrats seemed to have found a new sense of urgency. Patty Murray of Washington state told a story of a soldier she spoke with who just returned from Iraq. "He told me every time I heard somebody contentedly sitting in a coffee shop or restaurant, I just wanted to say 'Wake up!' and that's what we're saying Republican Senators now tonight. And we're staying up all night to tell them that."

Back on the Senate floor, Democrats stood by "Let Us Vote" posters and other visuals that emphasized how Iraq has distracted America from its biggest security threats. Louisiana's Mary Landrieu used additional visuals such as a most wanted poster of Osama Bin Laden with the headline "Priority Number One." Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke beside a poster stating, "The Iraq effect: War has increased terrorismseven-fold."

Much of the curiosity surrounding the event centered on Senators staying up all-night and sleeping on cots. Capitol Hill workers complained about having to bring up dozens of boxes of Chick Filet sandwiches to the Senators.

But, however tangential and monotonous, each Senator spoke about Iraq and national security. A motion to close debate on the amendment failed by eight votes today. But at least Democrats have hammered home exactly where Congress stands on getting out of Iraq. "I don't think spending one night on the Senate debating Iraq is too much to ask," Landrieu said.

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