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Iraq and the Senate: A Lot of Talk, No Debate

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Here in Washington, a Senate resolution criticizing the American troop buildup is still blocked by Republicans. Still, debate on the measure consumed almost the entire Senate session yesterday.

And NPR's David Welna was listening.

DAVID WELNA: It's more scrimmage than showdown. Still, the Senate debate on Iraq plowed ahead even without a vote slated to decide who wins and who loses. The debates have the tone of a grudge match. Each side accuses the other of having derailed the debate, even as they debate.

Here's New York Democrat Hillary Clinton on the Senate floor last night.

HILLARY CLINTON: We cannot get the Republicans to allow us to take a symbolic vote to condemn the escalation, much less a real vote to stop it.

WELNA: Majority Leader Harry Reid was also was dismayed, though not enough to stop him from trying to pull the plug on the Iraq debate, at least for now.

HARRY REID: I'm terribly disappointed that we haven't had the opportunity to vote on Senator Warner's, Senator Levin's resolution, and on the McCain resolution. But we've heard enough about that. We're not going to be able to do and we'll move on to other things.

WELNA: But minority Leader Mitch McConnell was determined to portray Democrats as stifling the much-awaited debate and was not about to move on.

MITCH MCCONNELL: I'm disappointed, as other members of my party in the Senate are disappointed, we're not having the Iraq debate this week.

WELNA: Evidently, those other Republicans had changed their minds since Monday. The day McConnell said this.

MCCONNELL: There are many members on my side who would argue that we shouldn't be having this debate this week at all.

WELNA: If this seems confusing, take some advice offered yesterday in the Senate by the number two Republican, Trent Lott.

TRENT LOTT: This is the Senate, you know. You've got to give everybody their chance. You've got to have some order out of the chaos. This is sort of like Baghdad; sometimes we get divided up into provinces.

WELNA: A lot of people, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter said, just don't get the Senate.

ARLEN SPECTER: It would be my hope that there would be a public understanding of what we are doing.

WELNA: Specter said it's not only relatives watching C-Span who have a hard time grasping the Senate's rules.

SPECTER: My staff doesn't understand what I'm saying.

WELNA: But the Senate standoff is really quite simple, according to New Hampshire Republican Judd Gregg. He says Democrats won't allow his rival resolution because it only says the Senate won't reduce funding for troops in the field.

JUDD GREGG: We're not having a vote because more people would vote for my amendment than would vote for their amendment. And they don't want to embarrass their membership by asking them - by having to have them vote for my amendment. Even though it is so - there's nothing controversial about it, unless you consider supporting troops in the field, giving them what they need to fight and defend themselves, to be controversial.

PATTY MURRAY, Host:

We are being held hostage by a convoluted resolution that is not the issue of the day.

WELNA: Washington Democrat Patty Murray called Gregg's resolution a cheap trick.

MURRAY: I am happy to take a vote on that. But I am not happy to have a resolution pass out of the Senate and the only thing we say is that we support our troops, and we never have an opportunity to send the president of the United States a message about the surge and whether or not we support it, which is exactly what the Gregg amendment is designed to do.

WELNA: So the impasse continues to the dismay of Kansas Republican Pat Roberts.

PAT ROBERTS: We appear like lemmings, splashing in a sea of public concern, frustration, and anger over the war in Iraq.

WELNA: Last night, seven Republicans who back the anti-troop buildup resolution declared the Senate stalemate unacceptable and vowed they'll force a vote on their measure, the same one five of them voted on Monday to block.

David Welna, NPR News.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Welna is NPR's national security correspondent.