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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Bush blinks in standoff with Senate over terrorism bill


The White House told lawmakers it would send Congress a revised proposal late Monday for dealing with terrorism suspects as the number of GOP senators publicly opposing President Bush's initial plan continued to grow.



The White House told lawmakers it would send Congress a revised proposal late Monday for dealing with terrorism suspects as the number of GOP senators publicly opposing President Bush’s initial plan continued to grow.

A Republican-led Senate committee last week defied Bush and approved terror-detainee legislation that Bush vowed to block. Sen. John Warner, normally a Bush supporter, pushed the measure through his Senate Armed Services Committee by a 15-9 vote.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said the administration was sending the revised language in hopes of reaching agreement.

"Our commitment to finding a resolution is strong," Perino said. "This legislation, once finished, will provide not only a way to bring the mastermind of 9/11 to justice, but also provide clarity to our men and women in the intelligence community who are interrogating these high-value detainees who helped provide information that allowed us to disrupt and prevent additional terrorist plots against America."

An administration official, who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity surrounding the negotiations, said the new language only addresses a dispute over the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which sets the standard for treatment of prisoners taken during hostilities.

The House on Monday backed away from a floor vote as planned this week. No vote in the Senate has been scheduled.

The White House was adamant last week that the Senate proposal would end the CIA program to interrogate terrorists. Top officials spoke with reporters and senators in a bid to shore up support for Bush’s legislation instead.

Whether Bush would have enough votes to win on the Senate floor remained unclear. On Monday, Warner appeared to have the majority of support in the Senate, with at least 52 votes in their favor if Democrats backed them as expected.

GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe of Maine said they favor Warner’s bill, joining Warner and three others who voted for it during the committee meeting last week.

There are 44 Democratic senators plus a Democratic-leaning independent, Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont.

The president’s measure would go further than Warner’s bill, allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and using coerced testimony. Bush also favors a narrower interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that would make it harder to prosecute U.S. interrogators for using harsh techniques than Warner and his allies support.

Several conservatives have lobbied on Bush’s behalf in Congress, including leadership and Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Neither side has been able to muster definitively the 60 votes necessary to prevent a Senate filibuster of their proposal. This uncertainty — along with hope that the White House and Warner would reach an agreement to stave off a Republican showdown on the Senate floor — has kept the bill from being voted on.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who supports the president’s bill, has said he wants to pass the bill before lawmakers recess at the end of the month. Doing so would allow the president to proceed with prosecutions of 14 "high-value" terrorists before the midterm elections.

The president’s plan has encountered resistance in the House as well, with Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., urging Bush to heed the military’s top uniformed lawyers, who have previously opposed some provisions of the president’s plan.

An agreement would keep Republicans from having to choose between backing Bush, as they have done in the past on anti-terror issues, and three Republicans known as leaders on national security issues: Warner, R-Va., a former Navy secretary; John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war who last year pushed through legislation banning mistreatment of detainees; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a reserve judge for the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

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