Road Map to a Filibuster

ABC's Senior Political Correspondent Jake Tapper reports: The Senate is headed towards a filibuster this evening against the non-binding resolution written by Sens. John Warner, R-Virginia, and Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressing disagreement with the escalation of troops in Iraq. Here's how the day may look:

At 2 pm, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, will speak on the floor of the Senate. He'll say this is a significant debate with much at stake, talk about how Americans and US generals oppose the proposed surge, and outline how Republicans are doing everything they can to block the debate on Iraq through feeble procedural measures.

At the same time, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, will hold a press conference in which he'll discuss what the GOP wants in this debate -- which, Republicans say, is just an opportunity to vote on two other bills in addition to Warner/Levin -- one offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which outlines benchmarks for the Iraqis to meet, and one from Sen. Judd Gregg, R-NH, which expresses the sense of the Senate that funds not be cut from troops in the field.

The GOP wants a "supermajority" vote (requiring 60 votes) on a series of resolutions, including Gregg's. They say they want this because their members don't want to stretch this out for 90 hours, having to invoke a lengthy "cloture" vote for each resolution. They also say their members want to be on the record against cutting funding for the troops.

It seems that Democrats don't want to abide by the GOP's plans because they want this vote to be as clean as possible -- are you against or for the surge? -- and they suspect only the Gregg amendment would reach the 60-vote threshold. That would ruin - they fear - headlines about a "Bipartisan Majority of the Senate Rebukes the Surge" and instead ending up with "Bipartisan Majority of the Senate Votes to Keep Funding Troops."

Democrats also say they have serious Constitutional questions about the Gregg resolution, and whether it essentially hands off legislative power to the executive branch by stating that the Constitution gives the President the responsibility for deployment and assignment of missions of U.S. military forces and Congress the responsibility to fully fund those missions -- and that Congress should not take any action that will endanger those forces carrying out their assigned missions.

At 4 pm, the Senate will begin debate over the motion to proceed to the Warner/Levin proposal -- which at this point in time is referred to only as the Levin proposal since Warner, since he's abiding by the Republican line on all these procedural issues, has not signed on to his own bill.

At 5:30 pm, Democrats will try for a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the bill, requiring 60 votes. The 49 GOP Senators will likely all vote against it, including Warner and other GOP supporters of the Warner resolution such as Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. Assuming all goes according to the Republican Party's plan, at least 50 Senators (49 Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn.) will vote against invoking cloture.

Democrats will then charge that Republicans are filibustering to protect the President.

Normally at such an impasse, the Senate would move on to the next item of business.

That may happen, but it's also possible that the Senate will continue to debate the Warner bill and re-negotiate the terms of the debate.

Republicans don't want to be seen as filibustering the anti-surge resolution, but they hope having Warner and Hagel in their pocket on all this procedural arcana might deflect matters. Most of them would like this all to go away.

Democrats want this vote -- but they don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

SO…...Who's going to blink first? Stay tuned.

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