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In the Senate, No Doesn't Always Mean No

To the uninformed outsider, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appeared to turn his back on the anti-war movement Monday when he joined almost every Republican in short-circuiting the debate on a no-confidence vote regarding President Bush's proposal to send 21,500 new troops in to Iraq.

The vote was no flip-flop by Reid. Serious students of the Senate know that his "no" vote was driven by one of those obscure parliamentary rules that only about 14 people truly understand.

Here at Capitol Briefing, we turned to one of those 14 people: Eric Ueland, the ex-chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and longtime parliamentary expert.

As only Ueland can explain (he began his Senate career in the bowels of the Capitol watching the chamber on the internal TV feed and writing up summaries of what was going on for other GOP staffers), Senate Rule XIII gives special privileges to those senators who are on the winning side of a vote.

"ANY MEMBER on the winning side of any vote has the right to move to reconsider that vote within three days after the vote. If he/she does so, that motion is then put on the Senate calendar ... This reconsideration is very high priority, and can be triggered without debate-- a powerful tool when you are in charge of the schedule, but dangerous if any of the other 99 senators do it," Ueland explained in an e-mail to Capitol Briefing.

So, in this case, Reid needed to get to 60 votes to invoke cloture, the rule that, once invoked, stipulates very strict guidelines in terms of how to proceed with the debate on an issue.

Because Reid didn't get to 60 votes (Democrats mustered just 49 votes, with 47 Democrats and two Republicans supporting the motion to begin debate on the Iraq resolution), he was considered a loser on this motion.

In order to bring this resolution back to the Senate floor at some future date, Reid would have had to go through all the procedural hurdles that are required, including filing another cloture motion. Once a cloture motion is filed, it takes a set amount of time before that motion is considered ripe and ready for a vote. For instance, if Reid decided today he wanted to re-file a cloture motion to force the debate to begin on the Iraq resolution, the earliest he would be able to hold that cloture vote would be Thursday.

"So that's why Reid switched his vote," Ueland said. "Now, he can try again without refiling cloture and waiting two days for that process to lumber to fruition."

By Paul Kane  |  February 6, 2007; 1:45 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Thank you very much for explaining this. When I read the roll call on this vote, I couldn't imagine what Reid was thinking!

Posted by: Claire S. | February 6, 2007 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Best story yet PK. This was something you can't find anywhere else - not enough inside intrigue in the press. Keep it up. I've bookmarked you - as has my alter ego - HILLARYisAshemale.

Posted by: Anchorhead | February 6, 2007 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Thanks a lot for clearing this, here I was muttering that Harry Reid has either lost his mind or has been persuaded by Joe Lieberman.

Did not know this ... thanks.

Posted by: Neerja | February 6, 2007 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Harry Reid thought he was voting to have the federal government build a bridge next to the land he bought for 60 cents from a corrupt union. When informed it was regarding the war and troops, Harry Reid against earmarked $30 million to the firm of the lobbyist who employs both of his sons. After further review, Harry Reid took boxing tickets to think it over, and forget to sign the disclosure of his $1.3 million land purchase. But Harry knows what he is doing. Ask Paul Kane. The entire Washington Post is hot on the trail of his never reporting (finally) on his disclosure forms, his sons employment, and the odd union land deal. Of course, the Post is still getting to Jefferson's frozen $90,000 and Mollohan's $2.2 million earmark to his former chief of staff, and Jack Murtha's defense lobbyist issues. This will all get attention once the 22 journalists dealing with Tom DeLay $112,000 contribution in Texas.

Posted by: Karen | February 6, 2007 5:55 PM | Report abuse

As the R's were able to stall the Senate resolution opposing President Bush's plan to send 21,500 additional combat troops into battle. Might I suggest they offer a proposal supporting President Bush's plan. It would be quite unlikely that the Republicans would vote against debating this. One can then see whether one's Senator supports escalating the war or not.

Posted by: Stuart | February 6, 2007 6:00 PM | Report abuse

While we're on the subject of arcane Senate rules, I have another question (we might need to forward this one on to Mr. Ueland). I was watching the lead up to the cloture vote, and Senators McConnell and Reid were wrangling back and forth over whether the Warner et al. resolution was going to come before the Senate in the form of a Senate bill (S.___) or a Concurrent Resolution. It seemed, from their discussion, that the procedural posture would be different depending on which form was selected. My question is, what are the PROCEDURAL consequences of a bill versus a concurrent resolution? Does it have to do with the right to offer amendments? Whether a "motion to proceed" (which can also be filibustered) would be necessary? Others? Thanks for your help.

Posted by: Stephen | February 6, 2007 6:06 PM | Report abuse

Force the Republicans to physically filibuster. When was the last time we saw that happen? Shut down the Senate for a few days and let the Republicans talk themselves silly on C-SPAN in FAVOR of the surge plan. The American people would give them the message in quite short order, I assure you.

Posted by: bigben | February 6, 2007 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Uh, sport, that's not just a Senate rule. It's standard parliamentaqry procedure. You didn't need Frist's man. Read Roberts Rules.

Posted by: ballardpolitics | February 6, 2007 6:28 PM | Report abuse

it was nice to see that the republicans have chosen once again to back their captain of failure george bush. how best to commit an act of aggresion against the american people would be a better summary of the results of that vote. you can break it down four ways or any other way that you like, but nonethelss the voters in this country have had enough. any further transgressions in the face of public opinion will have even worse results than in the 60's. these arrogant lawmakers( and i use that term losely) don't seem to understand that the tide has begun to turn. but once cloistered in the roman capital they seem to convienently lose track of public opinion.

Posted by: lonewolf | February 6, 2007 7:03 PM | Report abuse

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