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 Ã¢ËœÂ¼ 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.
If those Republican senators had backed cloture, Reid could then have shifted his vote to reach a total of 60.
Reid's decision to keep the Senate in session all night yielded a measure of clarity. It also drew significant media attention, which highlighted the fact that Democrats and a handful of responsible Republicans are serious about bringing the troops home, while the vast majority of Republicans -- including many who have raised objections to the Bush administration's approach -- are unwilling to make a genuine break with the White House.
Reid and the Democrats ought not be satisfied. They have only begun a process of introducing realism to the debate. One long night is not enough. There will need to be a lot of long nights before Republican senators who have been playing both sides are forced to make a choice between the demands of the administration and those of the great mass of Americans who want withdrawal.
Reid, who has only recently recognize the need to highlight the abuses of the cloture process of Senate Republican leaders, will need to press the issue again -- and again.
But he can't do it alone. And the fight can't just play out in Washington.
Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, the national campaign by the Service Employees International Union, MoveOn.org Political Action, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, USAction, Win Without War, Vote Vets, the Campaign for America's Future, Working Assets and other groups, is organizing to "keep the heat on" senators -- especially those both-sides-of-the-mouth Republicans.
"With their decision to filibuster, the Republicans have prevented the Senate from voting to bring the open-ended mission in Iraq to an end, and have once again ignored the calls of the American people," said Feingold.
The Americans Against Escalation in Iraq coalition will be working hard this summer to get Americans to turn up the volume on those calls, and the filibuster fight has provided citizens with all the information they need to target them.
John Nichols' new book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders' Cure for Royalism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson hails it as a "nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use of the 'heroic medicine' that is impeachment with a call for Democratic leaders to 'reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by the founders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'"
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