By Sam Youngman - 02/16/07 12:00 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision to hold the Iraq war resolution vote on Saturday threw presidential candidates into a quandary yesterday. It has forced them to choose whether to be in Washington or go out on the campaign trail and miss one of the most critical and symbolic votes of this Congress.
Senators with their eye on the White House are scrambling to manage their schedules. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), for example, will split Saturday between New Hampshire and Washington so she will be present for the vote. Other senators had not decided on their plans by press time yesterday.
The House bill is expected to pass Friday, setting up the unusual Saturday vote in the Senate. Any presidential hopeful missing that vote will very likely be providing his or her opponents ammunition.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley scoffed at the notion the scheduling might have been an oversight on the senator’s part. He added that Reid would not, in the future, consider the travel schedules of the 2008 candidates “any more or less than any of the other senators.”
“We’ve got business to do,” Manley said.
Reid said he would consider canceling the Presidents’ Day recess — the first of 2007 — if the motion passes. The recess would be the first sustained stretch for campaigning by any of the Senate presidential candidates since they announced their candidacies.
Calls to a number of the six senators’ campaign offices indicated the staffs were caught off-guard by Reid’s decision to have the vote on Saturday. All of the senators were planning on serious campaigning during the recess.
Mo Elleithee, a spokesman for Clinton’s campaign, said the senator had a full weekend of campaigning in New Hampshire planned. She will fly to New Hampshire for a morning event, fly to Washington for the vote, then fly back to New Hampshire for another campaign event that evening, said Elleithee.
Clinton had been scheduled to appear at a town-hall meeting in Dover, N.H., Saturday afternoon, but the campaign is moving the meeting to the morning so the senator can catch her plane. A revised press schedule was put out just before 5 p.m. Thursday.
Elleithee said Clinton wants to be out of Washington, talking to voters in New Hampshire, but “she’s certainly not going to miss [an] important vote like this.”
Marion Steinfels, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), said she didn’t know how his plans would change, but “he’s not missing a vote on Iraq.”
As of press time yesterday, Biden was scheduled to be in Iowa, and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was scheduled to be in South Carolina.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was flying in the right direction to vote by coincidence, dividing up his day to be on the trail in South Carolina earlier in the day before flying to speak at the Virginia state party’s Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, Va., in the evening.
The two Republican senators running or considering running for president were also planning on traveling this weekend. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) is scheduled to be in Florida, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is to be in Iowa.
McCain is in favor of the additional troops; Brownback has said he is opposed. Neither campaign could be reached for comment.
Senate Democrats offered Republicans alternative votes to possibly avoid the Saturday showdown, either on a resolution voicing simple support of the troop surge or on a series of benchmarks for Iraqi stabilization, suggested previously by McCain. Yet Republican leaders stood firm on their demand to take up the funding amendment by Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). As a result, by late Thursday the Senate appeared on course for the weekend cloture vote.
McConnell contended that Reid is leery of voting on preserving war funds because “he does not want to put [Democrats] in the position of saying they voted for it before they voted against it,” referring to binding funding caps that Democrats may attach to the upcoming war supplemental.
Senate Majority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) called the weekend-vote gambit “totally unnecessary.” A former majority leader, Lott advised Reid to abandon the strategy of dictating amendments to the minority: “I’ve tried it; it doesn’t work.”
Elana Schor contributed to this report.