washingtonpost.com  > Politics > In Congress
Page 2 of 2  < Back  

Senate Passes Intelligence Reform Bill

Lawmakers concerned mainly about Pentagon prerogatives were assured that the defense secretary, not the director of national intelligence, would continue to control spy satellites and aircraft. But those mainly seeking crackdowns on illegal immigration fared less well, winning only House leaders' assurance that immigration issues will be taken up early next year.

In a 90-minute closed meeting of House Republicans yesterday morning, the chief advocate of putting more immigration restrictions in the bill -- Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.) -- implored colleagues to hold out for a better deal. But with Hastert, DeLay and others urging lawmakers to embrace the White House-supported bill, Sensenbrenner could prevent only 67 Republicans from voting aye. Democrats overwhelmingly supported the measure, with only eight voting no.

Among Maryland's eight House members, all voted for the bill except Roscoe Bartlett (R). Among Virginia legislators, all voted aye except three Republicans who voted no: Jo Ann S. Davis, Randy Forbes and Virgil Goode.

The action in the House and Senate appeared to save Bush from the political embarrassment of a Republican-controlled Congress rejecting a major bill he supports. Throughout the fall, lawmakers complained that the White House was sending mixed signals, allowing top Pentagon officials to criticize the legislation publicly and privately even as Bush said he backed it.

After the Nov. 20 revolt by House Republicans, which surprised Hastert and the White House, the administration turned up the heat. Vice President Cheney phoned several House members last weekend and the White House helped shape the compromise language safeguarding the Pentagon's "chain of command" over spy satellites.

"The president and the vice president's interventions with House members were absolutely key in moving this bill forward," said Collins, who chairs the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Although much of the recent debate focused on protecting Pentagon turf, several House Republicans said the fiercest resistance centered on immigration questions. The original House version -- drafted with no Democratic input -- included numerous provisions to keep undocumented foreigners from entering the country and to make it easier to deport visitors who overstay their visas or break laws.

Sensenbrenner repeatedly noted that the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11 had obtained multiple driver's licenses, which he said helped them open bank accounts and board planes. He urged the House to retain language that would require states to verify the legal status of non-citizens applying for driver's licenses.

Opponents, including businesses that rely on low-wage undocumented workers, state governments and civil liberties groups, said Sensenbrenner's proposal would require extensive scrutiny and national debate. In weeks of House-Senate negotiations over the intelligence legislation, the driver's license provision and others were dropped.

In yesterday's closed GOP meeting, several participants said, Hastert promised to include immigration provisions in a package of "must pass" legislation early next year.

Some members, however, said the promise might prove empty. The White House and Senate, they note, are much less receptive to sharp crackdowns on illegal immigration than are many House members. "There's a real lack of confidence that we'll get a bill to secure our borders," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.).

The House and Senate vote were a victory for the Sept. 11 commission, whose hard-hitting 567-page report issued in July became a bestseller and spurred Congress to hold hearings and start drafting legislation. Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean (R), a former New Jersey governor, and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton (D), a former congressman from Indiana, lobbied the public and lawmakers to enact an overhaul this year.

Staff writer Walter Pincus contributed to this report.

< Back  1 2

© 2004 The Washington Post Company