WASHINGTON — Reflecting a war-weary nation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday for an accelerated withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan after more than a decade of fighting.
The bipartisan vote of 62-33 sends a clear message to President Obama and the military as they engage in high-stakes talks about the pace of drawing down the 68,000 troops, with a White House announcement expected within weeks.
Although the vote was on a nonbinding amendment to a defense policy bill, its significance could not be discounted amid the current discussions.
Thirteen Republicans, including Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top GOP lawmaker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, backed the measure. Both Massachusetts senators, Democrat John Kerry and Republican Scott Brown, backed the proposal.
Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, its chief sponsor, argued that Al Qaeda is stronger in other parts of the world and that nation-building in Afghanistan has gone off track. His measure endorsed Obama’s timetable to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014 but pressed for a quicker pace, without specifying how that would be achieved.
The overall bill authorizes $631 billion for weapons, ships, aircraft, and a 1.7 percent pay raise for military personnel. The White House threatened to veto the legislation in its current form, citing limits on the president’s authority in handling detainees at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and restrictions on cuts to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
The Senate hopes to wrap up its version of the bill by week’s end. It then would have to be reconciled with the legislation the House passed in May. The House bill calls for Obama to maintain a force of at least 68,000 troops through the end of 2014.
With N.C. House race settled, 2 seats still up for grabs
WASHINGTON — The last undecided House race has been called for the incumbent Democrat, bringing an unofficial close to the 2012 campaign more than three weeks after Election Day.
North Carolina Representative Mike McIntyre will return to Congress in 2013 after barely surviving a challenge from David Rouzer.
The Republican conceded to McIntyre on Wednesday night after a recount showed the Democrat maintaining a small lead.
Now only two House seats in next year’s Congress remain up for grabs. Representative Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat, won reelection but resigned last week, citing ongoing health issues and acknowledging he’s the subject of a federal investigation. Special primary elections to nominate candidates to replace him will be held in February.
And in Louisiana, which held its primary election for Congress on Nov. 6, there will be a run-off between two Republicans next month for the other seat.
House Republicans will stay in the majority, although their ranks will drop from 240 this Congress to 234 next year.
Snowe urges compromise
in final committee hearing
WASHINGTON — Senator Olympia Snowe continued to stress the need for compromise Thursday in her final hearing as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.
Snowe, Republican of Maine, has served on the committee since her arrival in the Senate in 1995, and was chairwoman from 2003 to 2006.
Snowe, who received a standing ovation, cited corrosive partisanship for her decision to leave Congress after more than 30 years in the House and Senate. She said none of the committee’s goals can be accomplished without bipartisanship.
‘‘We must strive to find common ground, and to reach consensus on the issues that matter most to our fellow Americans,’’ she said. “As I close for the last time as ranking member of this committee, it is my hope that the legacy of bipartisanship and problem solving that has defined the committee will continue.’’
Biden, colleagues remember Senator Rudman in tribute
WASHINGTON — Vice President Joe Biden led a tribute on Capitol Hill Thursday to the late GOP Senator Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, recalling him as ‘‘forthright, frugal and fair.’’
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain of Arizona, and former Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a close Rudman friend from New Hampshire, were among many friends and former colleagues from both parties at the memorial event.
Rudman, who died Nov. 19 at 82, coauthored a vanguard deficit reduction law, championed ethics, and led a commission that predicted the danger of homeland terrorist attacks before 9/11.
‘‘His honesty could be searing,’’ Biden said, but Rudman also showed deep compassion and faith in the dignity and wisdom of ordinary Americans.