Whereas Congress Cannot Set Aside Politics . . .

By Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington
Tuesday, September 12, 2006

It is a testament to how far Congress has come from the post-attack unity of five years ago that House Republicans and Democrats are fighting over a resolution commemorating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The resolution is the legislative centerpiece of the week in the House, and each side is accusing the other of using the resolution for political gain.

The dispute is not over the resolution's conclusions, which include the continued recognition of Sept. 11 as a day of remembrance, mourning and honoring first responders.

The wrangling, instead, is over one of 15 "whereas" clauses, in which Democrats see a possible trap: "Whereas Congress passed, and the President signed, numerous laws to assist victims, combat the forces of terrorism, protect the Homeland and support members of the Armed forces who defend American interests at home and abroad, including: the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and its 2006 reauthorization; the Homeland Security Act of 2002; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002; the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004; the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005; the Safe Port Act of 2006; and the 21st Century Emergency Communications Act of 2006."

Democrats can vote for the resolution and in so doing, praise controversial legislation that many of them opposed. Or they can vote against the resolution and be portrayed as forsaking the victims and heroes of 9/11.

"This should be a resolution about unity, undertaken in the same spirit we came together to show on September 11, 2001," said Jennifer Crider, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Republicans say that Democrats are hoping to strike any reference to Congress's response to the attacks, in order to preserve the claim that the "do-nothing Congress" has done nothing to make the country safer. Democrats would rather "risk offending the memories of those who were murdered on Sept. 11 than work with us in a bipartisan way," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

GOP leaders yesterday sent the resolution to the House International Relations Committee for final approval. Democrats conceded privately the resolution will pass overwhelmingly, with or without Pelosi's signature on top.

GOP Allies on Immigration Split on Tribunals

The core of GOP senators who successfully insisted that Congress take a moderate route on immigration legislation is spearheading the push for a bipartisan bill on military tribunals. This time, however, the group lacks the support of three key figures: President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Playing central roles in both issues are Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), John W. Warner (Va.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.).

In the months-long debate over immigration, they helped steer the Senate toward a bipartisan bill that, unlike the House version, would have allowed many illegal immigrants to pursue a path toward legal status. Most GOP senators opposed the bill, but it passed with the backing of 38 Democrats and 23 Republicans, including Frist and McConnell. Bush also supported it.

Now, however, Frist, McConnell and Bush oppose the McCain-led team on the question of how to regulate trials of enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Bush wants a hard-line stand on prosecutions, including the possible use of classified information that is never shown to defendants. Frist and McConnell, who visited Guantanamo on Sunday, support the president, leaving McCain and his allies with a steeper climb than they faced in the immigration fight.

Lobbying Legislation Goes Quietly

The House will say goodbye to the once-trumpeted lobby-reform bill as early as this week. Lawmakers are reluctant to express their intentions exactly that way, but senior staffers said that when the House votes to change its rules to make "earmarks" -- narrowly focused spending projects -- more transparent to the public, that will signal that they have given up hope of approving a broader lobbying measure.

In January, spurred by lobbyist Jack Abramoff's guilty pleas on fraud and conspiracy charges, Republican leaders called the lobby legislation a top priority. But the bill quickly ran into trouble as lawmakers resisted provisions that would limit their interaction with lobbyists. Voters expressed little concern when the legislation was diluted.

Now, bogged down by a disagreement over a House-passed provision that would restrict independent campaign organizations called 527s, Congress is poised to punt on the entire exercise. As a consolation, GOP leaders in both chambers said they want to require lawmakers to disclose the earmarks contained in any bill and to name the earmarks' sponsors.

The House is still developing its earmark-disclosure language, aides said. In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) plans to ask for similar legislation to be drafted this week.

Staff writer Jeffrey H. Birnbaum contributed to this report.

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