Key Republican and Democratic members of the Senate and House said yesterday that it is doubtful that Congress will pass the intelligence reform bill when members return for two days in December, but some said success depends on lobbying by President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Bush said last evening during a news conference in Santiago, Chile, that he was "disappointed that the bill didn't pass."
"I thought it was going to pass up until the last minute," he said. "So I look forward to going back to Washington to work with the interested parties to get it passed.
"I saw the speaker today said that the matter wasn't complete, it wasn't over, it wasn't final, that we have a chance to get a bill. And therefore, when I get home, I'm looking forward to working it," he said.
The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), said that more than some House Republicans opposed a compromise measure that was generated by recommendations made in July by the Sept. 11 commission.
"There's been a lot of opposition to this from the first," Roberts said on "Fox News Sunday." "Some of it is from the Pentagon. Some of it, quite frankly, is from the White House, despite what the president has said." As a result, he added, "I just don't see it [being approved] as of December 6."
The compromise measure was worked out late Friday among House and Senate negotiators who had been deadlocked over the past month trying to reconcile separate reform bills passed by the House and Senate in early October. The proposed bill created a director of national intelligence who would coordinate and oversee the 15 agencies that make up the intelligence community and have budgetary authority over spending.
The proposed legislation also created a counterterrorism center and amended immigration laws to fight terrorism, provisions added by House Republicans that never were the subject of Senate hearings.
On Saturday, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) decided to pull the bill from floor consideration after two key committee chairmen who had participated in the negotiations voiced their opposition to the compromise at a conference of House Republicans.
Roberts pointed out yesterday that Bush had signed executive orders in August that put in place two of the main intelligence reforms. "The good news," he said, "is that the president has provided authority to the CIA director that sort of tracks what we would like to do -- we'd like to do more -- and also set up the national counterterrorism center."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) yesterday took a more optimistic tone about the possibility the measure could be revived next month, saying, "We're going to work over the next two weeks."
But he added, "For us to do the bill in early December it will take significant involvement by the president and the vice president and the White House." Even then, Frist said, he could not guarantee there would be a vote next month. "If it's not ready then, we'll come back in January," he said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), during an appearance on ABC's "This Week," said, "The bill may be on life supports, but I think it's still breathing." He said he based his viewpoints on Bush and Cheney taking a more active role. "The president's going to come back from Chile, and I think work on those guys," McConnell said.
"We can come back and do this on December 6," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House intelligence committee, who had changed his mind since Saturday about the possibility of passing the bill. "I am now back on board and fully engaged."
Frist, citing questions raised by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) about the bill's potential interference with intelligence reaching the combat military, said, "There is not general agreement between the Pentagon and members of the White House, and hopefully that can be resolved over the next 10 days."
Roberts, on the other hand, said Hunter's objection to the bill represented "a false claim as far as I am concerned." Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee and one of four key negotiators, said the language that Hunter opposed, "making sure that the chain of command would not be interfered with, was drafted by the counsel to the vice president of the United States."
Appearing on Fox, Harman added that some House Republicans "never wanted a bill, they never will want a bill, and it was unfortunate that Speaker Hastert couldn't go around them." Harman, along with Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel, said there is little chance an agreement will come in time for an early December vote.
Rockefeller, on ABC, pointed out that Hunter and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a proponent of controversial immigration proposals in the bill, received calls from Bush or Cheney "and still tried to kill the bill. . . . I think the implication of that is not a good one for Congress."
Staff writers Dana Priest and Mike Allen, traveling with the president in Chile, contributed to this report.