What: All Issues : War & Peace : War with Iraq : National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) amendment to withdraw U.S. forces in Iraq by April 2008/Motion to instruct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the presence of absent Senators (2007 senate Roll Call 250)
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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) amendment to withdraw U.S. forces in Iraq by April 2008/Motion to instruct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the presence of absent Senators
senate Roll Call 250     Jul 17, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This was the second of three votes on whether to instruct the Sergeant-at-Arms to request the presence of absent Senators. It came during an all-night debate on an amendment to the 2008 Defense Department authorization bill that would have required a redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq by the end of April 2008.

The Sergeant-at-Arms is the chief law enforcement officer in the Senate. An appointee of the Majority Leader, he is responsible for compelling the presence of absent Senators during a quorum call. During routine quorum calls, this role doesn't come into play, but if a Senator or group of Senators are actively avoiding the chamber in order to prevent the Senate from having a sufficient number of lawmakers to conduct business, the Sergeant-at-Arms is charged with rounding them up, against their wills, if necessary.

In this case, the Senate was engaged in an all-night debate on whether to bring combat troops out of Iraq, with certain exceptions, beginning within 120 days of enactment of the legislation. By April 2008, all U.S. combat forces would have to be out of that country, with the exception of troops protecting U.S. personnel, training Iraqi security forces or conducting counterterrorism operations. Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) proposed the measure as an amendment to annual legislation that authorizes funding for the Defense Department.

This series of votes was a way for the Democratic majority to keep the chamber in session all night and ensure that Senators stayed nearby. The move was prompted by Republican threats of a filibuster (endless debate), and Democrats wanted to show that Republicans were preventing the measure from even coming to a vote. Keeping the chamber in session overnight was the Democrats' way of drawing press attention to the fact that Republicans wouldn't allow an up-or-down vote on a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, a vote that the Democrats would have won.

"President Bush's term of office is winding down. We should not have to wait until he completes his term of office before we change course on this war in Iraq," said Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) responded that Republicans were ready to vote, and pointed out that it was Democrats who were trying to keep the chamber in session all night, presumably to make a political point.

"Everybody knows we can have that vote now, or 5:30 or 6:30, or in the morning," Lott said.

A previous motion to compel the attendance of absent lawmakers yielded 91 Senators to vote, but more Republicans showed up to vote against it than Democrats showed up to vote for it, and the motion failed. (See Roll Call 249.)

This time around, as the debate pressed on through the wee hours, only 78 lawmakers showed up to vote, but more Democrats than Republicans turned out this time, and thus the motion to require the attendance of absent lawmakers passed on a completely party-line vote. (Independent Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut voted with the Democrats and Republicans, respectively.) By a vote of 41 to 37, the Senate passed a motion to compel the attendance of absent lawmakers, and the all-night debate on an amendment to a Defense authorization bill that would have required a redeployment of troops from Iraq by April 2008, and the all night debate continued.

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