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 draw down 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 251)
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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2008 (H.R. 1585), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) amendment to draw down 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 251     Jul 18, 2007
Progressive Position:
Yea
Progressive Result:
Win

This was the third 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.

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.

"Already too many lives have been lost, too many men and women have been wounded and permanently injured, and too many spouses, parents, and children have suffered the pain of separation and too often permanent loss of a loved one," Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said. "We can either continue to pursue a policy that is no longer working or we can move forward and implement a strategy that will set us on a new course. The time is now to reevaluate the costs of this war."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) responded: "I am reminded of the history of this country that we do not walk away if we have a mess and allow millions of people to die and millions of other people to be displaced without having a strategy that will solve that situation. And I do not see that in the Reed-Levin amendment."

The first 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). The second motion yielded 78 lawmakers, but with enough Democratic support and Republican absences to pass (see Roll Call 250). 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.

This time, as the debate pressed on through the wee hours, only 60 lawmakers showed up to vote, and more Democrats than Republicans turned out again this time, and thus the motion to require the attendance of absent lawmakers passed on a completely party-line vote. (Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted with the Democrats.) By a vote of 37 to 23, 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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