The new political realitiy — the Democrats are dominant in Congress but not completely in control — was underscored by the fate of the highly-touted non-partisan nonbinding resolution debate on Iraq.
Because in the end The Big Debate became The Nonexistant Debate.
(1)Does this mean back to the drawing board for some kind of resolution that can bring together Senators from both parties who are uneasy about the administration’s surge/escalation/augmentation policy in Iraq? And, if it emerges, will it have the kind of “teeth” war critics seek — or be as gentle as war supporters (and the White House) want?
(2)Does the use of the filibuster by Republicans put the GOP more at risk in 2008 or do GOPers sense something that Democrats don’t? Does the top GOP leadership feel that the Democrats are overreaching? If they didn’t, it’s unlikely the vote would have come out this way with so many GOPers who have criticized the war siding with the Republican party leadership.
(3)Will Republicans who sided with their party leadership on preventing debate (no matter what their stance is on the war) face political consquences or are those who are suggesting they will not taking into account other political realities?
No matter what the answers, the bottom line is that it was a defeat for those who wanted to get something on the record opposing the administration’s policies and a victory for those who felt any kind of a resolution (nonbinding or otherwise) expressing official no-confidence in the administration would be detrimental to the war effort. There could (and will) be spin on it — but the numbers count and those who wanted the debate didn’t have the numbers. The New York Times:
Republicans on Monday blocked Senate debate on a bipartisan resolution opposing President Bushâ€™s troop buildup in Iraq, leaving in doubt whether the Senate would render a judgment on what lawmakers of both parties described as the paramount issue of the day.
The decision short-circuited what had been building as the first major Congressional challenge to President Bush over his handling of the war since Democrats took control of Congress last month, and left each party blaming the other for frustrating debate on a topic that is likely to influence the 2008 presidential and Congressional races.
At issue is a compromise resolution drawn up chiefly by Senator John W. Warner, Republican of Virginia, that says the Senate disagrees with President Bushâ€™s plan to build up troops and calls for American forces to be kept out of sectarian violence in Iraq.
The deadlock came after Democrats refused a proposal by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, that would have cleared the way for a floor fight on the Warner resolution in return for votes on two competing Republican alternatives that were more supportive of the president.
One of those alternatives, by Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, would declare that Congress should not cut off any funds for forces in the field. That vote was seen as problematic for Democrats because many of them opposed any move to curtail spending, raising the prospect that it could have attracted the broadest support in the Senate.
The vote was 49-47, or 11 short of the 60 needed to go ahead with debate, and left the fate of the measure uncertain.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky described the test vote as merely a “bump in the road” and added that GOP lawmakers “welcome the debate and are happy to have it.”
So the GOP blocked the debate but wants debate. Will that explanation be accepted by most Americans? (Polling data on the Democrats and Republicans will be fascinating in coming weeks).
It sounds like the Democrats lost in the political skills department:
Democrats hoped to gain enough Republican votes to pass the measure expressing disagreement with Bush’s decision, and to send the commander in chief an extraordinary wartime rebuke on a bipartisan vote.
It was an outcome that the White House and Senate Republican leadership hoped to avoid. They concentrated on a relatively small number of swing votes, many of them belonging to GOP senators expected to be on the ballot in 2008.
Bloomberg underscores this point even more:
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell used a legislative maneuver to delay a debate on Iraq war policies that promised to embarrass President George W. Bush and force some Republican lawmakers to cast politically unpopular votes.
The Senate postponed the start of debate, stalling consideration of nonbinding resolutions on the war, after Republicans and Democrats failed to agree yesterday on which measures would be considered and how many votes would be required to pass them.
“People in the White House, in the West Wing, are all giving high fives right now,” Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told reporters last night.
Those waiting for the much-anticipated Iraq debate in the Senate will have to wait a while longer. Republican leaders, eager to avoid a public airing of views on the unpopular war, raised procedural objections. Democratic leaders, figuring that public pressure would force Republicans to capitulate, refused to meet their demand that all resolutions on the Iraq war get 60 votes to pass. And each side got tangled up in talking points as it tried to blame the other for preventing a discussion.
“We are, in effect, being denied a fair process here for this extremely important debate,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared at a news conference in his office.
But this assertion of importance was quickly contradicted by McConnell’s deputy, Lott, who was sitting next to him. “We’re going to produce, if anything, a nonbinding resolution that has no force in fact,” he said.
Meanwhile, it’s said “it’s not over till it’s over” — and there are indications it is not totally over. The Washington Post:
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who helped to rally his colleagues against moving ahead, said the vote was partly symbolic. “This is more of the principle that we’re going to be a relevant minority and assert our rights to a fair process,” he said. “They were either going to establish that they could roll us or that we’d be relevant in the process.”
But Democrats believe Republicans may be losing politically, by defying what they perceive as a growing public desire for a robust war debate. Some Democratic senators were surprised that two Republican allies of Warner — Collins and Coleman — parted ways with their caucus and with Warner himself on the procedural vote.
After the vote, Collins issued a statement saying: “Since I returned from my third visit to Iraq in December, I have been convinced that it would be a mistake to send additional troops to Iraq. I believe that this is one of the most important issues facing our nation and that it is important for the Senate to go on record in opposition to the president’s plan.”
Collins continued: “It is my hope that the leadership will soon work out an agreement that will allow us to have a vote as soon as possible.”
According to one senior Democratic aide, Reid left the Capitol last night confident that he is holding a winning hand. Negotiations between party leaders are expected to continue today, and Reid promised that the Senate will return to Iraq over and over until Democrats get a clean vote.
The question now is: if the debate goes foward and a resolution passes, will it be one that accentuate’s the Senate’s role as providing oversight and asserting a semblance over the executive branch?
Or will what emerges be a resolution that once again leads to high fives at the White House? And, if so, what will that mean for Republicans — and Democrats — if poll numbers continue to show a growing loss of support for the war?
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.