A night of debate about the war in Iraq yielded two results:
1. Limited progress on getting an honest up-or-down vote on whether to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq on a schedule that might finish before the end of George Bush’s presidency.
2. Confirmation that many Senate Republicans who delight in holding press conferences to talk about what’s wrong with Bush’s war are, in fact, the primary facilitators of that war’s continuation.
The cloture vote on whether to allow consideration of an amendment to begin withdrawing troops needed the support of 60 senators.
Only 52 senators voted to get serious about establishing an exit strategy by opening debate on a proposal from Michigan Senator Carl Levin and Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed to begin withdrawing troops within 120 days on a time line that would be completed by April, 2008.
The good news, as Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold noted, is that “a majority of the Senate backed binding legislation with a firm end date to redeploy our troops from Iraq. This shows how far we’ve come since August 2005 when I became the first Senator to propose a deadline to bring the mistake in Iraq to an end.”
The bad news, as Feingold added, is that, “Although a number of Republicans have finally acknowledged that the President’s Iraq policy is a failure, their filibuster of the Levin-Reed amendment shows they are still failing to back up their words with action.”
The split in the Senate was not precisely along party lines, although there was no mystery about which party was challenging the president and which was doing his bidding.
Voting for cloture were 47 Democrats, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders and four Republicans: Nebraska’s Chuck Hagel, Oregon’s Gordon Smith and Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Hagel, Smith and Snowe had committed to vote “yes,” while Collins had been a possible “yes” vote.
Voting against cloture were 45 Republicans, Connecticut Democrat/Independent Joe Lieberman and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a supporter of cloture who voted “no” in order to retain the ability under Senate rules to raise the issue anew.
What is notable is that a number of Republican senators who have earned headlines in recent weeks as war critics — or, at least skeptics — voted with the Bush White House to maintain the war: Minnesota’s Norm Coleman, New Mexico’s Pete Domenici, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, Indiana’s Richard Lugar, New Hampshire’s John Sununu. Ohio’s George Voinovich and Virginia’s John Warner.