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Republicans block vote on troop pullout

WASHINGTON – U.S. President George W. Bush’s fellow Republicans in the Senate on Wednesday blocked a Democratic proposal to force him to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq after a rare round-the-clock debate.

The action prompted weary and frustrated Senate Democrats to postpone consideration of other measures to bring the war to an end. But they voiced confidence more Republicans would soon join their efforts.

On a vote of 52-47, backers fell short of the needed 60 to clear a Republican procedural hurdle and move toward passage of an April 30, 2008, deadline for removing U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada responded by suspending consideration on a defense policy bill until Republicans drop procedural tactics that prevented passage of the withdrawal plan.

“There are two things that I want to accomplish. One is to pass a defense authorization bill, but with a deadline dealing with Iraq,” Reid said. “If that’s tomorrow, we’ll do it tomorrow. If it’s later, we’ll do it later.”

Critics called the nearly 24-hour Senate debate, which had featured cots, pillows and take-out pizza, a theatrical stunt by Democrats who have been hammered for their inability to keep a 2006 campaign vow to end the increasingly unpopular war.

White House press secretary Tony Snow tweaked Congress, whose approval ratings have dropped to under 25 percent, beneath those even for the unpopular Bush.

“You had a Senate that brought in the cots yesterday, which is a pretty good metaphor for a Senate that’s been asleep for the last seven months,” Snow said.

But Democrats described the debate as a wake-up call to pressure wavering Republicans, many of whom are up for re-election next year, to break ranks with Bush.

Reid had urged support for the measure, which would have begun troop withdrawals within 120 days, saying, “It couldn’t be clearer that if you give this president a choice, he will stay hunkered down in Iraq until the end of his failed presidency.”

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky countered that the measure was a poor alternative to current strategy. “Last night’s theatrics accomplished nothing,” McConnell said.