Partisan battle in Senate again stalls debate on war

Times Staff Writer

The Senate, stalled for weeks over how to take on the president’s war strategy, failed again Wednesday to begin formal debate of the issue as Republicans and Democrats sparred over what exactly lawmakers would consider.

Democrats, who have been mounting an escalating legislative campaign to end the Iraq war, are pushing a binding resolution sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to compel the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq.

It appeared Wednesday that Republicans would agree to debate the measure, which would require President Bush to begin withdrawing American troops from Iraq within 180 days of the resolution’s passage.

“Republicans are eager to engage in this debate,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who last month led two successful filibusters to block consideration of a nonbinding measure opposing Bush’s plan to deploy additional troops in Iraq.


On the Democratic side of the aisle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts -- one of the war’s most vehement critics -- spoke of a “defining moment.”

“The American people are watching,” said Kennedy, who a generation ago helped lead the effort to end American involvement in Vietnam. “The world is watching.”

The Senate then stopped doing much the world could watch.

After an 89-9 vote to clear the way for a vote on whether to commence the debate, the notoriously laborious upper chamber of Congress ground to a halt.


Republicans again demanded votes on other war-related measures, including a resolution by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) that would oppose any cutoff of funding for troops in the field. The Democratic measure does not suggest cutting off any funding.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), one of the Senate’s elder statesmen who sponsored a nonbinding resolution criticizing Bush’s plan, tried again to offer a nonbinding proposal, although a different one.

Leaders of the two parties again tried to negotiate a deal that would allow the debate to go forward.

The White House again said Bush would veto anything that interfered with the military’s ability to conduct the war.


And Reid canceled an official trip to Mexico he had planned to begin Friday.

On the other side of the Capitol, lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee are set to take up a war spending bill today that would also require a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq to be completed no later than August 2008.