- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

A key opponent of legislation to overhaul the nation’s intelligence apparatus yesterday agreed to support the bill, opening the door for a House floor vote this week.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and House Armed Services Committee chairman, agreed to a compromise to alter the bill’s language to protect the military chain of command’s authority over wartime intelligence.

But the deal leaves out House conservatives who want the bill to crack down on illegal immigration and identification fraud, and they said yesterday that they expect the bill to pass over their objections. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said a floor vote could come as early as tomorrow.

“After working through the weekend with the vice president, several conferees and other members, we have come to an agreement on changed bill language that we believe protects with necessary clarity the time-tested chain of command,” Mr. Hunter said in a joint statement with Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.

“Pending a review of the rest of the legislation, we are prepared to support the bill as amended by this new language,” the two men said in the statement.

The intelligence-reform bill was stalled Nov. 20 when Mr. Hunter and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and House Judiciary Committee chairman, drew a line against the proposal.

Mr. Hunter said the bill gave the national intelligence director too much authority over the use of satellites that disseminate real-time intelligence to troops on the ground, and thus could hinder the military by forcing commanders to deal with an added layer of bureaucracy.

Mr. Sensenbrenner refused to allow passage of the bill unless it included his provisions to stop states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens and another to limit the use of ID cards issued by foreign consulates as legal proof of identity.

Mr. Sensenbrenner reiterated his position yesterday, but Mr. Hunter’s acquiescence means he likely will be sidestepped on the way to passing the legislation.

“Americans deserve a complete bill so that we can prevent another 9/11 from occurring,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “Border security and immigration reform are vital components of our homeland security efforts, so why are they not included in this legislation?”

House Republican leaders said yesterday that they would move the bill forward despite Mr. Sensenbrenner’s objections, but probably would make arrangements for the immigration provisions to be taken up in a separate bill early next year.

“We’re still working with Mr. Sensenbrenner,” said Republican conference chairman Rep. Deborah Pryce of Ohio. “I think there are different ways to accommodate” his concerns.

Mr. Sensenbrenner called any promises of future consideration “hollow” and said that he will rectify next year what he called a “September 10 mentality in a post-September 11 world.”

President Bush urged Congress to pass the bill this week in a letter sent to members last night.

“An overarching principle for these needed [intelligence] reforms has been to create a strong director of national Intelligence with full budget authority while preserving the chain of command within departments and agencies,” Mr. Bush said.

“We are very close to a significant achievement that will better protect our country for generations to come, and now is the time to finish the job for the good of our national security.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, disagreed and was much less gracious than Mr. Sensenbrenner in his criticism of the Senate and House leadership and Mr. Bush.

“We’re screwed,” he said yesterday, even as he continued lobbying fellow members to oppose the intelligence bill on the grounds that it doesn’t do anything to secure the borders.

Mr. Tancredo and other immigration reform-minded members supported Mr. Sensenbrenner’s position that to keep issuing driver’s licenses, which the September 11 terrorists used to board planes and travel the country unfettered, would leave the nation with a false sense of security.

“We will be giving them, essentially, the keys to the kingdom,” Mr. Tancredo said.

Mr. Tancredo said he has little hope of altering the intelligence bill before it passes but aims to continue his fight for various immigration reforms next year, adding that he doesn’t expect Mr. Bush to join him.

“George Bush is an open-borders guy and that’s just it,” Mr. Tancredo said. “He doesn’t mind dealing with the military side about the chain of command, but securing the borders is a philosophical problem for the president.”

Other Republicans supporting the immigration provisions said they were “caught in a crack” and may be forced to vote against the legislation if the “absolutely essential” driver’s-license provisions fail to make it onto the final bill.

“If it’s not in there, then members have to decide whether they’ll vote for the good in the bill and let this go,” said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, who said he has not yet decided how he will vote. “A number of members still have a problem with the bill.”

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, said there are enough members in support of the immigration reforms to force the leadership to schedule a separate vote and “move them expeditiously” early next year.

“That seems to be the sentiment of the conference,” he said.

• Charles Hurt and Amy Fagan contributed to this report.

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