July 18, 2007
Metal Cots, Takeout Pizza and a Long Night of Recriminations
By JEFF ZELENY and DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON, July 17 As Democrats and Republicans lined up to take
their turns speaking on the Senate floor late Tuesday evening, the
corridors of the Capitol slowly filled as hundreds of people arrived
to witness the overnight Congressional debate over President Bush's
The pizza (for the senators) had been delivered. The cots had been
dusted off for weary lawmakers. And the sergeant-at-arms was standing
by, ready to fetch any senator who did not arrive in the chamber when
the buzzer sounded for a late-night or early-morning quorum call.
It was the first round-the-clock Senate debate since 2003, when
Republicans sought to break a Democratic filibuster over appointing
federal judges. This time, it was the Democratic leaders challenging
Republicans for threatening to filibuster legislation calling for
troops to begin leaving Iraq in 120 days.
As midnight approached, the crowds began to grow, filling the
visitor's gallery above the Senate floor and forming a long line
outside the chamber. Ordinary citizens watched, seemingly spellbound,
as Republicans accused Democrats of staging a political show to
dramatize opposition to the war. Even as Democrats brushed aside such
suggestions, the party's Congressional leaders and many lawmakers took
a break from the debate to join a few hundred war protesters at a
candlelight vigil outside the Capitol.
"Some people say Democrats are micromanaging the war," said Senator
Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, speaking on the Senate
floor. "Well, hey, someone's got to manage it, and it's about time."
The debate on the Senate floor unspooled like a film reel from the
past five years, beginning with another late-night debate, when the
Senate voted at 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 11, 2002, to authorize the president
to use force against Iraq. On each side of the aisle, senators
peppered their remarks with references to key points in the war,
including the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi elections and,
finally, the administration's troop buildup.
"It is more than four years since President Bush declared that the
mission in Iraq was accomplished," said Senator Robert C. Byrd,
Democrat of West Virginia, speaking to a few dozen people seated in
the gallery and, of course, the C-SPAN audience. "Since `mission
accomplished,' more than 3,400 U.S. soldiers have died, died, died in
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, defended the
administration's policy, declaring, "We will not flinch when times get
tough." She went on, saying, "It would not bring honor on this country
to cut and run because times are tough."
And so it went, as the night wore on, with Democrats and Republicans
taking their turns speaking on the Senate floor. Some lawmakers tried
to lower the volume and turn the attention back to the annual military
policy bill, the ostensible subject of the debate, but that did not
last long. The audience members were reminded more than once to be silent.
"It is not appropriate to express approval or disapproval in the
gallery," said Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, who was among
those taking turns presiding.
While Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said
Democrats were not staging the debate as a political stunt, members of
his staff delivered care packages to their Republican counterparts. "A
few supplies for your sleepless night help us bring an end to this
war," read the note attached to a bundle of toiletries, tied with a
The rare session began unfolding with the traditional pageantry: the
unveiling of the metal cots, in case senators wished to rest during
The cots, which arrived on trucks from a storage facility in Maryland,
were assembled in the Lyndon B. Johnson room off the floor of the
Senate, where the crowd of reporters and camera crews grew so unwieldy
that it had to be dispersed and the room sealed so the nine cots could
be set up. (Once the sheets and Egyptian cotton pillows were in place,
cameras were allowed back in.)
Meanwhile, as building workers wheeled in stacks of bedding, Senator
Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, was in the hallway
complaining about intransigence by both Democrats and President Bush.
He amplified his remarks later on the Senate floor, saying, "The
United States Senate has reached the approximate level of the Iraqi
Parliament in dealing with the war in Iraq."
And as lawmakers spent the day engaging in dueling news conferences,
trading recriminations of gamesmanship and grandstanding, there were
crucial behind-the-scenes negotiations over the menu for the evening,
particularly among Democrats after Mr. Reid declared his dislike of
pizza. (He may control the floor of the Senate, but not the menu. The
pizza arrived in the Senate cloak room shortly after 6 p.m.)
Republicans had chicken dinners delivered to their cloak room.
Other issues did manage to attract some attention on Capitol Hill.
Senator David Vitter, the Louisiana Republican who admitted that his
phone number was in the records of a business identified as an escort
service, returned to Washington and apologized to fellow Republican
colleagues at their closed-door lunch. Their applause was heard
outside the room. And as he arrived on the Senate floor, several
Republicans extended their hands.