Senate Dems Force Showdown On Iraq

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to reporters outside of the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol November 1, 2005 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images/Mark Wilson
Unable to win their way with votes, outnumbered Democrats used a rarely invoked Senate rule to force a secret session as a way to dramatize their assertions that the Bush administration misused intelligence in the run-up to war in Iraq.

Almost no one was expecting what Sen. Harry Reid, the minority leader, did on the Senate floor Tuesday in the middle of an otherwise typical speech, reports CBS News correspondent Wyatt Andrews.

"I now move that the Senate go into closed session," Reid said, meaning all visitors had to leave and all recording equipment had to be shut off.

"They have repeatedly chosen to protect the Republican administration rather than get to the bottom of what happened and why," Nevada Democrat Reid said, in demanding that the Senate chamber be emptied of everyone but members and a few staffers.

"This is an affront to me personally, it's an affront to our leadership, an affront to the United States of America, and it is wrong," said Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Republicans angrily derided the use of Rule 21 — which dates back to 1795 — as a political stunt but agreed two hours later to have a bipartisan group check on how the Senate Intelligence Committee is coming along in its investigation of prewar intelligence.

"The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," said Frist.

Democrats sought assurances that Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas would complete the second phase of an investigation of the administration's prewar intelligence — as he said he was doing anyway.

A six-member task force — three members from each party — was appointed to review the Intelligence Committee's work and report to their respective leaders by Nov. 14.

Roberts' committee produced a 511-page report in 2004 on flaws in an Iraq intelligence estimate assembled by the country's top analysts in October 2002, and he promised a second phase would look at issues that couldn't be finished in the first year of work.

The committee worked on the second phase of the review, Roberts said, but it has not finished. He blamed Democrats for the delays and said his staff had informed Democratic counterparts on Monday that the committee hoped to complete the second phase next week.

"Now we have this ... stunt 24 hours after their staff was informed that we were moving to closure next week," a clearly angry Roberts told reporters. "If that's not politics, I'm not standing here."

Frist suggested President Bush's nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court had "set the Democrats back on their heels. ... This may just be a reaction to that."

But CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent Bob Fuss says with the Alito nomination battle coming up that could lead to a showdown over the filibuster, the Democrats delivered a message they are ready to play hardball.