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NYT: Metal Cots, Takeout Pizza and a Long Night of Recriminations

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/18/washington/18scene.html July 18, 2007 Metal Cots, Takeout Pizza and a Long Night of Recriminations By JEFF ZELENY and DAVID
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2007
      July 18, 2007
      Metal Cots, Takeout Pizza and a Long Night of Recriminations

      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
      Iraq policy.

      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
      yellow ribbon.

      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.
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