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Long Night Over, Withdrawal Measure Falls Short

The Democratic effort to move toward final passage of an measure to bring home most troops from Iraq failed to clear the 60-vote hurdle, as just four Republicans crossed party lines to vote in favor of the Levin-Reed withdrawal plan.

Those Republicans were Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), locked in what is expected to be a tough 2008 re-election battle; Chuck Hagel (Neb.), a Vietnam war veteran who's been one of the most outspoken GOP critics of President Bush's handling of Iraq; Gordon Smith (Ore.), who publicly broke with Bush after the 2006 elections and has voted with Democrats on almost every war issue this year; and Olympia Snowe (Maine), the centrist who broke from Bush's war policy last week.

In a rare move attempting to show the solemnity of the moment, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) required that senators cast their votes from their actual seats. Just before the vote was called, a guest chaplain officially re-started today's new session -- ending the more than 24-hour session that had begun yesterday morning -- with a prayer. "If ever there were a time for a prayer, it would be now," Reid declared.

Democratic prayers weren't answered. The final tally was 52-47 in support of moving forward on the bill, but there were really 53 'aye' votes as Reid switched his vote to no because of parliamentary rules that grant senators on the losing side special privileges in order to call that issue back up to the floor without having to clear procedural hurdles.

"We spent two days showing America we will not back down," Reid declared. But he then withdrew consideration of the underlying bill, which authorized the Pentagon's 2008 budget, suspending further consideration of Iraq-related bills for now.

In session since 10 a.m. yesterday, the chamber stayed open all day, evening, night and morning in a Democratic effort to highlight GOP reluctance to support the strongest withdrawal language possible. Many Republicans have openly criticized Bush's handling of the war, with numerous alternatives now being offered from senior Republicans such as Sens. John Warner (Va.), Richard Lugar (Ind.) and Pete Domenici (N.M.). However, as the debate drew on, with Republicans accusing Democrats of a publicity stunt, GOP senators appeared to solidify in their positions against supporting the Democratic plan.

Capitol Briefing has been on hand since yesterday morning for the debate, although at 2 a.m. this blog decamped to a secure location otherwise known as a Capitol Hill apartment for a three-hour power nap. Here are some highlights from the wee-hours-of-the-morning debate, as well as the run up to the final vote:

• If media attention is what the Democrats were after, they succeeded. At 7 a.m. this morning all three network morning news shows had the Senate debate as one of its top two stories. The Washington Post ran a story co-written by Shailagh Murray and me on A1, the New York Times ran its story on A1, above the fold.
• Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who caucuses with Democrats, was the only vote from Reid's side of the aisle to support Bush.
• Because interest was so high on both sides to speak, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was delayed him till after 10 a.m. -- well past the preferred 7 a.m. slot covered by all the morning shows. But don't feel bad for Obama, his fallback was a satellite, one-on-one interview with NBC "Today Show" anchor Matt Lauer, watched probably by several million viewers more than usually watch C-SPAN 2.
• In Obama's stead, freshmen Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) was on the floor speaking at precisely 7 a.m, getting his mug on at least one of the morning shows that went with a live shot of the debate as the newscast came on.
• There were three different quorum-call votes during the round-the-clock debate -- and there were diminishing returns the later the votes occurred. The first came at 8:30 p.m., at which 91 senators showed up; the second vote, at midnight, drew just 78 senators; and the final quorum call, after 5 a.m., drew 60 senators. Two of the three votes brought majorities in favor of instructing the sergeant-at-arms to arrest absent senators, but, well, that didn't happen.
• Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), after missing eight out of nine votes last week when he went into seclusion once he admitted a connection to an escort service, made it to every quorum call.

By Paul Kane  |  July 18, 2007; 1:45 PM ET
 
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