WASHINGTON - President Bush urged the Senate on Thursday to follow the House lead and approve a White House plan for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects, saying, "The American people need to know we're working together to win the war on terror."
Bush met in the Capitol with Senate Republicans the day after the House passed the legislation that Republicans likely will use on the campaign trail to assert that Democrats want to coddle terrorists.
"People shouldn't forget there's still an enemy out there that wants to do harm to the United States," Bush told reporters after the closed-door meeting.
Senate Republicans agreed on the measure with the exception of whether to allow terrorists the right to protest their detentions in court. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contends the ability to file a "habeas corpus" petition is considered a fundamental legal right and necessary to uncover abuse.
Other Republicans contend that providing terror suspects the right to unlimited appeals would weigh down the federal court system.
Four Democrats and Specter were being given opportunities to offer amendments Thursday, but all were expected to be rejected along party lines.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., told CBS' "The Early Show" that he expected the bill would be approved Thursday to ensure continued interrogation of high-level terrorism suspects - "maybe the most important program we have" - and avoid the risk of classified information being divulged at terrorism trials.
Democrats have said the legislation would give the president too much latitude when deciding whether aggressive interrogations cross the line and violate international standards of prisoner treatment.
The legislation would establish a military court system to prosecute terror suspects, a response to the Supreme Court ruling in June that Congress' blessing was necessary. While the bill would grant defendants more legal rights than they had under the administration's old system, it nevertheless would not include rights usually granted in civilian and military courts.
The measure also provides extensive definitions of war crimes such as torture, rape and biological experiments, but gives the president broad authority to decide which other techniques U.S. interrogators may use legally. The provisions are intended to protect CIA interrogators from being prosecuted for war crimes.
For nearly two weeks the White House and rebellious Republican senators have fought publicly over whether President Bush's plan would give a president too much authority. But they struck a compromise last Thursday, and Republicans are hoping approval will bolster their effort to cast themselves as strong on national security, a marquee issue this election year.
Democrats' opposition to the bill likely will fuel political attack ads from their Republican challengers as lawmakers go into the Nov. 7 elections.
After Wednesday's mostly party-line vote in the Republican-run House, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said in a statement that Democrats who voted against the measure "voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists."
He added, "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan."
In response, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats feared the House-passed measure could endanger U.S. soldiers by encouraging other countries to limit the rights of captured American troops, and be vulnerable to being overturned by the Supreme Court.
"Speaker Hastert's false and inflammatory rhetoric is yet another desperate attempt to mislead the American people and provoke fear," she said, adding that Democrats "have an unshakable commitment to catching, convicting and punishing terrorists who attack Americans."
Pelosi and other Democrats said the bill would give the president too much power to decide whether interrogation standards go too far.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, said, "This bill is everything we don't believe in."
Overall in the House, 219 Republicans and 34 Democrats voted for the legislation, while 160 Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent voted against it.
Bush, who planned to meet with GOP senators Thursday morning, has urged the Senate to approve the measure and in a statement issued after the vote congratulated the House for its "commitment to strengthening our national security."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wanted to add language to improve congressional oversight of the CIA program, while Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., wanted the bill to expire after a limited time so Congress could revisit the matter.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., offered an amendment to add to the list of forbidden interrogation techniques and warn other nations that the United States would not tolerate abusive treatment of its citizens living abroad. Kennedy's says the GOP bill opens the door to retaliation from other nations.
"The bill that has reached the floor would diminish the security and safety of Americans everywhere," he said.