Last week, by a vote of 223-201, the House passed a bill requiring Pres. Bush to start withdrawing troops from Iraq within 120 days and to complete a redeployment by next spring
This week, when Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. Jack Reed propose a similar bill in the Senate, there will most likely never be a vote on the bill itself, even though a majority of Senators, as well as over 60 percent of the American people, support it. All the Republicans need is 41 Senators to stage a "gentleman's filibuster" blocking a vote. If Majority Leader Harry Reid -- who controls the Senate agenda -- follows the "gentleman's" agreement, he will take the Iraq redeployment bill off the table without a vote on the substance.
I've been watching politics long enough to remember good old-fashioned filibusters when Senators had to speak around the clock, for days on end, to block a vote on a measure supported by the majority.
The record for a solo filibuster is held by Strom Thurmond who spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes straight to block a vote on civil rights legislation. In fact, it used to be called "going to the diaper," as Senators prepared to hold the floor without a bathroom break. Before his record filibuster, Thurmond spent time in the steam room to dehydrate himself, but an aide stood by with a bucket in the cloakroom, just in case. Senators would bring cots and sleeping bags into the Senate chambers to stay in session through the night. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson mobilized public opinion to break a filibuster by southern Senators and enact the Civil Rights Act.
In recent decades, there has been a "gentleman's agreement" that old-fashioned filibusters are no longer required: If 41 Senators block a vote, the Majority Leader just moves on to other business. Where once the filibuster was reserved for matters of national importance where a minority stood on principle, now the ease of filibustering has made it routine.
If the Senate majority is unable to enact the agenda for which the electorate put it in office -- like ending the Iraq War -- the public starts to question the sincerity, or even the competence of the majority. We see that today as public support for the Democratic Congress elected last fall crumbles in the polls as Democrats have been unable to take effective steps towards ending the war, or to enact most of the rest of their agenda for that matter.
Majority Leader Reid has the power, however, to ignore the "gentleman's" agreement and force an old-fashioned filibuster. Republican Minority Leader Bill Frist did this in 2003, forcing the Democrats to stage a real filibuster against the nomination of right-wing judge Miguel Estrada.
Sen. Reid: It's time to force the diminishing minority of Republican Senators who continue to support Pres. Bush's failed Iraq strategy to "go to the diaper," speak 'round the clock, bring cots and sleeping bags into the Senate chamber, as the American people watch them try to talk to death a vote on an Iraq redeployment bill that a majority of Americans support.
In fact, let the Democrats show the American people true courage and be willing to give up part of their summer recess, if necessary, should the Republican minority continue holding forth with a live, in-person filibuster. Let's see if this Republican minority is so committed to backing a President with 29 percent approval ratings that they, too, will debate into their summer recess. With the Republican minority faced not only with the anger of the American people, but more importantly, with the prospect of losing part of their summer vacation, I predict that the filibuster by these "courageous" Republican warriors will crumble and the Senate will join the House in sending a troop redeployment bill to Pres. Bush's desk.
Bush will, of course, veto the measure -- and there are not yet enough Congressional votes to override the veto. But passage of such a bill by both houses of Congress will further isolate the White House and its remaining Republican Congressional supporters, and will hasten the day when Republicans march down Pennsylvania Avenue and tell the President that he has no alternative to but to change course in Iraq.
In the meantime, the American people's trust in the Democratic Congress will be restored, as they see that Congress has done everything possible to keep its promise to start bringing the troops home. It will be crystal clear that the reason Americans troops continue to die in a foreign civil war is the stubbornness of an out-of-touch President, his prince of darkness Vice President, and a minority of Republicans in Congress.
Sen. Reid: The filibuster can be an important protection of minority rights. It isn't practical to require an old-fashioned filibuster every time the minority blocks a vote on a bill. But facing the most important issue of our time -- and a stubborn minority that is blocking the Senate from voting on a solution -- it is one of those times to ignore the "gentleman's agreement" and make Republican war supporters stand up and filibuster the American people, if they dare.
Bring on the diapers.
UPDATE: Harry Reid just stated on the Senate Floor that if Republicans Filibuster the Levin/Reed redeployment legislation, he will keep the Senate in session all night Tuesday to force the Republicans to debate the reasons they support Bush's status quo "stay the course" policy in Iraq. Thanks, Sen. Reid, for showing some courage. I wish I could take credit for my blog influencing your decision but I'm sure you've been hearing from a lot of people. I would just add, don't just make the Republicans stay in session debating for one night, as a sympolic gesture. Keep the Senate in session as long as necessary--days, weeks, if that's what it takes--until they allow an up or down vote on redeploying troops from Iraq.