WASHINGTON — Democrats kept the U.S. Senate in session all night, July 17-18, seeking to stop Republican efforts to block a vote on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq within 120 days.
At 11 a.m. July 18, bleary-eyed senators voted 52-47 in favor of ending the GOP filibuster of an amendment by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) that would start withdrawing troops within 120 days and finish by April 30. Four Republicans voted with the Democrats. But the vote was eight votes shy of the 60 needed to cut off debate and bring the measure to a vote.
Even though GOP leaders succeeded in scuttling the measure, the all-night debate showed that Democratic leaders in Congress are turning to more militant tactics to expose the Republican right and end the war.
More than 1,000 antiwar protesters stood in a candlelight vigil in Upper Senate Park to support the Democratic initiative. Speakers, including the congressional leadership, made clear that the struggle for a bipartisan majority to end the war will continue.
Brad Woodhouse, an organizer for Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, declared, “We are here to put the Republicans and President Bush on notice. It is time to stop obstructing an end to the war. It is time to put the troops ahead of a discredited and disgraced President Bush.”
Gold Star Mother Tracie Miller of Maryland told the throng, “We’ve been hurting since Nov. 14, 2004, when our son Marine Corporal Mitchell Koski died in Fallujah. How do you explain it to more than 3,600 families and the families of tens of thousands of Iraqis who have died? We need to bring the troops home.”
Retired Marine Lt. Col Andrew Horne, who served in both Iraq wars, drew cheers as he said, “We took an oath to defend our nation. … It doesn’t say anything about fealty to George W. Bush and the Republican Party. A lot of us worked for change in the elections last November. Could you have more of a mandate for government of, by and for the people than that election?”
Woodhouse told the World that 150 vigils were organized across the country to protest the GOP obstructionists. “It’s part of our Iraq Summer project that targets 30 congressional districts and nine Republican senators,” he said. “We are going to have to keep chipping away until we have the votes to end the war.”
A delegation of 30 or more Democratic lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), walked from the Capitol to thank the vigilers. “We know this debate won’t be enough to end the war in Iraq,” Reid said. Although several Republican senators have complained about the war, “too few are willing to vote the right way,” he said. “There are too many who support the president rather than the troops.”
Responding to a handful of hecklers who shouted that Democrats were as guilty as Republicans, Pelosi asked, “Are we united on speaking out against Republican obstruction on the floor of the United States Senate?” The crowd roared “Yes!” Pelosi added, “If we are unified, we will be successful.”
Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said, “Every day, every week, more soldiers die. Their blood is on our hands. How many more must die? We must bring this war to an end.”
Pelosi introduced members of the Out of Iraq Caucus. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), caucus co-chair, said, “We were the ones who knew from the beginning that this president was destroying democracy, knew from the beginning there were no weapons of mass destruction.” She added, “We’re here tonight to support these senators. We say: Stand up! Stand tall! Not another nickel, not another dime, not another soldier. Not this time.”
Iraq war veteran Abdul Henderson of Los Angeles, now on the staff of Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), blasted President Bush, saying, “We have a president who says ‘bring ’em on,’ who has never served a day in combat.”
Henderson told the World, “I believe this is the beginning of the end of this war. As soon as I came back from Iraq, I became an outspoken opponent of this war. Now to see Congress following suit is very gratifying.”
As cots were set up in the ornate Senate cloakroom for the all-night session, Reid assailed the minority Republicans for blocking the troop withdrawal amendment. Reid won a roll-call vote to instruct the sergeant at arms to round up senators for the all-night stand.
About 12:30 a.m., with 15 Iraq vets listening in the Senate gallery, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) read aloud letters from Iowa mothers pleading that their children come home. “Iraq is lapsing into a quagmire that more and more resembles Vietnam,” he said. Pointing at a sign propped beside his desk with the words, “Let us vote,” Harkin said, “That’s all we are asking. Give us an up or down vote.” Virtually all Republicans refused to do so.