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During the July 17 edition of ABC's Good Morning America, co-anchor Diane Sawyer falsely claimed that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) "vows to filibuster, talking all night to close out all topics besides a vote on Iraqi troop withdrawals." Sawyer was referring to Reid's plan to hold an all-night Senate debate prior to the July 18 cloture vote on a Democratic proposal to withdraw troops from Iraq. However, by planning to extend the Senate session throughout the night, Reid is not "vow[ing] to filibuster," as Sawyer reported. Rather, he is highlighting the Republicans' blocking of an up-or-down vote on the proposal; in other words, it is the Republicans who are filibustering the withdrawal proposal by requiring that 60 senators vote for the amendment in order for it to pass.
Additionally, on the July 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes asserted that Reid is "filibustering his own bill."
On July 11, Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) proposed an amendment to the defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2008 (H.R. 1585) calling for troop redeployment from Iraq to begin within 120 days. On July 16, Senate Republicans blocked the Democratic leadership's effort to schedule an up-or-down vote on the amendment. In response, Reid scheduled a July 18 cloture vote on the amendment, which would require a 60-vote supermajority to cut off debate on the measure. On the Senate floor, Reid criticized the Republicans for "using a filibuster to block us from even voting on" the amendment and announced his intention to extend the debate on the measure through the night on July 17 in order to "highlight Republican obstruction." From his statement:
REID: But now, Republicans are using a filibuster to block us from even voting on an amendment that could bring the war to a responsible end. They are protecting the President rather than protecting our troops. They are denying us an up or down -- yes or no -- vote on the most important issue our country faces.
I would like to inform the Republican leadership and all my colleagues that we have no intention of backing down. If Republicans do not allow a vote on Levin-Reed today or tomorrow, we will work straight through the night on Tuesday. The American people deserve an open and honest debate on this war, and they deserve an up-or-down vote on this amendment to end it.
Given the Republican leadership's decision to block the amendment, we have no choice but to do everything we can in the coming days to highlight Republican obstruction. We do this in hopes of ultimately getting a simple up-or-down vote on this and other important amendments that could change the direction of the war.
A 2003 Congressional Research Service report on "Filibusters and Cloture in the Senate" defined filibustering as "any use of dilatory or obstructive tactics to block a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote." While senators once routinely mounted filibusters by holding extended debates on the Senate floor, it is more common now for the Senate to recognize filibusters merely through cloture votes. If a cloture motion fails to get 60 votes, debate continues and the measure does not move to the floor for an up-or-down vote. By calling an all-night session, Reid is forcing opponents of the withdrawal plan to sustain the filibuster by actually speaking on the floor. As a July 16 McClatchy Newspapers article reported, Reid is challenging the Republican minority to "engage in an old-fashioned filibuster":
Senate Democrats are planning an all-night session Tuesday, daring Republicans to engage in an old-fashioned filibuster over Iraq troop withdrawals rather than just threatening one.
The tactic was unlikely to deliver the 60-vote supermajority that war critics need to bypass procedural hurdles and amend a defense authorization bill so that it would require withdrawing combat troop in four months.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Monday that a little late-night drama might focus more public attention on why the new Democratic majority still hadn't enacted binding antiwar legislation as it had campaigned to do.
"If Republicans insist on blocking a change of course in Iraq, Democrats will give them the opportunity to explain this, lots of opportunity to explain this," Reid said. "We are going to have votes during the night. We're not going to let everybody go home and have a good night's rest."
In the Senate, unlike the House of Representatives, the minority party can slow or block the passage of controversial bills through the threat of endless debate, known as a filibuster. If the minority insists, the party in power needs 60 of 100 votes rather than a simple majority to cut off that debate and move to a final vote.
In modern politics, though, it's rare to have a debate that rages through the night. Instead, leaders agree to a limited debate and then schedule time to see whether the majority has the 60 votes needed to end a filibuster.
From the July 17 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America:
ROBIN ROBERTS (co-host): It's going to be a long day on Capitol Hill.
SAWYER: It certainly is. Senators facing an all-nighter now as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid vows to filibuster, talking all night to close out all topics besides a vote on Iraqi troop withdrawals.
ROBERTS: And of course, as they continue to talk there in Washington, our brave troops con -- they forge on. And this morning, we have a brand new, inside look at their daily lives and what really happens there on the front lines.
From the July 16 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
BARNES: Yeah, that's why they're losing legislatively. That's why Republicans aren't being hurt by filibustering. I loved it when the Democrats are saying how outraged they are that somebody would demand a fili -- would do a filibuster against a defense bill -- why, it's unprecedented, you know. Like they had never done that in unprecedented ways against judges.
I mean, that -- I mean, their defense is laughable. In effect, you know, Harry Reid is going to keep everybody in the Senate overnight. All he's doing is filibustering his own bill, which Republicans said, "OK, agree to the 60-vote margin, bring up the bill tomorrow," you know, the Levin bill.