President Bush’s anti-terrorism agenda got a boost today when a wiretap bill was revised and a Senate Republican leader said he was hopeful a deal was near on treatment of detainees.
Progress on the two critical issues before Congress recesses next week for the midterm elections was seen as crucial to Republicans as they defended their majorities in the House and Senate.
However, the White House and a group of Republican senators were still at odds over how to adhere to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and — simultaneously — give the CIA wide leeway to conduct interrogations.
House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican, said he had not been briefed on late-night negotiations between Republican senators and the White House, but he expected significant differences between any bills passed by the House and Senate.
Yet “if the Senate and the White House have reached an agreement, that is probably what would end up becoming law and making its way to the president’s desk,” Mr. Hoekstra said at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank.
Despite the stalemate, Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist sought to reassure party members that a deal still was possible.
“I am hopeful that very soon agreement can be reached with the president and with the majority of Republicans,” Mr. Frist said. “But we need to do it in a way that we’re not sharing classified information with those terrorists who clearly will pass it on to others around the world to be used against us.”
He spoke as House Republicans moved closer to the administration’s position on its terrorist surveillance program.
Rep. Heather A. Wilson’s bill initially would have given legal status to the program only after an attack. Instead, her bill now would grant the administration’s plea to allow wiretapping against Americans without warrants when it is thought a terrorist attack is “imminent.”
That concession carried a price for the president, according to a draft.
Under the measure, the administration would be required to share more details of the nature of the threat with the House and Senate leaders and the chairmen of both intelligence committees, who then would decide without administration input which lawmakers would receive the classified information.
“Excesses are best prevented when intelligence activities are operated within a framework that controls government power by using checks and balances among the three branches of government,” said Mrs. Wilson, New Mexico Republican.
Her measure, being considered today by the House intelligence committee, represents a possible breakthrough in a bitter election-season rift between the White House and Republican leaders on one side and Republican lawmakers concerned about Mr. Bush’s use of executive authority in the war on terrorism.