Both the House and Senate postponed until next week consideration of legislation governing how to try terror detainees, raising questions about whether the lawmakers will be able to approve a bill before they leave town this month for the November elections.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told reporters yesterday that he is delaying Senate action until next week to allow negotiations to continue between the White House and a handful of Senate Republicans who object to parts of President Bush’s proposed legislation on how the detainees should be treated.
House Republican leaders also have delayed action. Originally scheduled to take up its own bill, which hews closely to Mr. Bush’s, the House delayed action until next week to allow the House Judiciary Committee to consider the measure.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans who want to grant more civil rights to terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, continued negotiating with the White House after Mr. Bush offered a compromise proposal earlier this week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said his optimism over reaching a compromise is “growing by the moment.”
“The negotiations are serious; they’re occurring in good faith. We’ve well-defined our differences, and we’ve also well-articulated our common goals,” he said yesterday.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican leading the opposition to Mr. Bush, said the negotiations have been “productive.”
On Monday, Mr. Bush offered revisions to his proposal for handling the suspects picked up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. Republicans on Capitol Hill said the administration wants to set specific rules for the treatment of detainees without granting them the full privileges under the Geneva Conventions, which apply to prisoners of war captured from regular armies during conventional wars.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and supporter of the White House position, said Mr. Bush proposed using the War Crimes Act in place of the Geneva Conventions to establish “what’s legal and not legal” in handling detainees. “It’s all about clear rules, which I think we owe our intelligence officials,” he said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said yesterday that his panel should consider the matter and noted a third possible solution, which would grant the detainees protections under several amendments to the U.S. Constitution to prevent cruel and inhumane treatment.
Senate Republican leaders also have run into problems this week trying to advance legislation governing the administration’s terrorist surveillance program. Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told Mr. Frist on Monday that his panel should be able to consider the legislation before it goes to the floor. Mr. Frist yesterday agreed to delay floor consideration of that bill until next week.
Democrats, meanwhile, continued to revel in the Republican terrorism-related dispute. “The president picked a battle and he thought it would be with Democrats, but it has been with Republicans,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday.