December 6, 2004
WASHINGTON - Legislation to revamp the nation's intelligence agencies moved closer to a vote and likely approval, perhaps as early as Tuesday in the House, as a leading Republican opponent announced he would support a compromise version.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had been one of the main roadblocks to passage of a bill implementing the Sept. 11 commission's terror-fighting recommendations.
Hunter had wanted the bill to ensure that the Pentagon would retain some control over the tactical agencies that operate the nation's spy satellites and analyze the results for troops on the battlefield.
He said Monday in a joint statement with Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., "Pending a review of the rest of the legislation, we are prepared to support the bill as amended by this new language."
With that agreement in place, House Republicans probably will meet Tuesday morning to decide how to move the bill forward.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert had refused to move the legislation to a vote before Thanksgiving because of objections from GOP chairmen including Hunter and House Judiciary chief James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin.
Congressional Democrats had said there were plenty of lawmakers prepared to approve the legislation, and they had asked President Bush to press fellow Republicans to bring the bill to a vote.
Sensenbrenner remains opposed to the bill because he wants such issues as illegal immigration and asylum changes dealt with as well.
The bill's supporters had said it would not interfere with the military operations Hunter spoke about.
However, language was added saying the new national intelligence director "shall respect and not abrogate the statutory responsibilities of the heads of the departments of the United States government."
If lawmakers fail to pass an overhaul this year, they will have to start from scratch next year after the new Congress is sworn in.
The agreement came as Bush prodded Congress to finish work on the legislation that would reorganize the government's 15 intelligence agencies under a single national intelligence director.
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We feel very hopeful that this legislation will get passed this week."
Democratic senators also said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., had told them compromise language had been reached.
"I think it will bring enough House Republicans on to cause Speaker Hastert to feel confident to bring up the bill," said Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a former Senate Intelligence chairman.
Earlier Monday, Bush said, "I believe we've addressed the concerns, by far, of the majority of the members of both the House and the Senate."
Bush, speaking during an Oval Office meeting with Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawer, said, "It's a piece of legislation that is important for the security of our country."