- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

Republicans yesterday backed away from the administration's request to detain immigrants indefinitely and Democrats embraced greater wiretap authority for the FBI as lawmakers sought quick passage of anti-terrorism legislation.
The two contentious investigative tools sought by Attorney General John Ashcroft are "roving" wiretaps and the indefinite detention of immigrants under investigation in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat and Judiciary Committee member, said he will support roving wiretaps aimed at any telephone used by a suspect but he opposes the immigrant-detention proposal.
"Interning immigrants without judicial procedure will never go a long way, but we hear they are willing to work with us on that," Mr. Schumer said.
One House leadership aide said Republicans are willing to delete the indefinite detention of immigrants, and a Bush administration official said the White House is amenable to rewriting the provision.
"Indefinite can be a long time," the leadership aide said.
Sen. Russell D. Feingold of Wisconsin, the only Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who voted to confirm Mr. Ashcroft as attorney general, said Congress should take more time to review proposals that would give the FBI unlimited discretion in searching student records and the Justice Department greater leeway in obtaining search warrants normally approved by a panel of federal judges.
Mr. Feingold said giving the FBI discretion in areas ordinarily subject to judicial review would be a "drastic departure" from current law.
As Congress grapples with many national security issues, some lawmakers expressed frustration that Congress itself is as disjointed as the agencies it seeks to streamline.
"We need to drain the swamp in the Senate, so we know who's responsible for what," said Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican.
Congressional jurisdiction over homeland-security issues spreads throughout nine subcommittees, and Mr. Roberts said one select committee should be established.
"We're just as discombobulated and patchwork as the 40 agencies that we brought in. Right now, the Senate of the United States, with all due respect, is part of the problem. We're not part of the answer," Mr. Roberts said.
The House is also considering sunset provisions on passage of other investigative tools, which allow members to recall the legislation if civil liberties are sacrificed.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, suggested the sunset provision, but it was rebuffed by Mr. Ashcroft at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.
"If I thought the risk of terrorism was going to sunset in several years, I would be glad to say we ought to have a sunset provision," Mr. Ashcroft said.
Both House and Senate Republicans want the final package to be agreeable to Democrats and to pass by a wide margin. Vice President Richard B. Cheney this week challenged lawmakers to finish the work by Oct. 5.
"The debate right now is what the package will look like and what will survive," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican.
Republicans say the administration's deadline is feasible, but Democrats are not eager to rush through the process.
"Rather than get it done quickly, I want to get it done right," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, yesterday.
"I just talked to the attorney general this morning about our desire to work with him to resolve whatever our differences may be, and I'm confident we can do that," Mr. Daschle said.
Mr. Ashcroft will meet with Senate Democrats at the Capitol on Tuesday for a second hearing on the legislation. House Republicans hope to pass their package Wednesday.
"The hearings are important. But if a month from now we're still debating this issue, shame on us," said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican.
Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican and ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the process should be expedited but wise.
"Whatever we pass should not be constitutionally suspect," Mr. Shelby said.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide