Video: Republican infighting over Bush policy

By MSNBC anchor
updated 9/20/2006 6:01:10 PM ET 2006-09-20T22:01:10

The air in Washington today is thick with rumors, speculation and name calling, and that's just on the Republican side of the aisle. This is one of those rare days, even more unusual with an election approaching, when the GOP is bitterly divided.

The issue is the president's approach to fighting terrorism. On the Senate side, the battle is over legislation for terror detainees. On the House side, Republicans are fighting over the president's warrantless wiretap program.

First, the Senate
In the Senate, a couple of Republicans have broken away from the White House in regards to the Geneva Conventions and are standing firm in their position that the White House should not reinterpret language banning inhumane treatment. The White House wants to define the Geneva Conventions in a way that would allow CIA interrogators to continue to use harsh techniques on terror suspects. 

Video: Can Frist stop Republican revolt? Last night, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist appeared to take a shot at the breakaway Republicans. Frist noted that while the proposal from John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham may have 50 votes, it does not have the 60 needed to stop a filibuster from backers of the more stringent white house proposal.

The threat of Republicans, the majority party, using a filibuster to block other Republicans is remarkable. And this morning, Frist seemed to realize that he had thrown gas on an already combustible situation. 

"I am very hopeful that soon an agreement can be reached with the president and with the majority of Republicans who believe and who know that we need an effective interrogation program,” Frist said in a statement.

Nonetheless, that last part of the sentence offered yet another shot because it implied that Frist does not believe the McCain-Graham-Warner solution would be "effective." 

When John McCain was told of Frist's criticism today, and the remarks suggesting McCain might face a Republican filibuster, the Republican senator from Arizona stated curtly, "our negotiations are with the White House."

On to the House
White House negotiations are also continuing with Republicans in the House of Representatives. 

The fact that the Bush White House has to negotiate anything with Republicans in the House is, in itself, amazing. This is a body that has almost always given the President what he wants.

But recently, House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner was forced to scrap a bill on the president's warrantless wiretap program because several Republicans complained about civil liberties. Today, Republican Heather Wilson, who is facing a tough re-election battle in New Mexico, offered an alternative proposal. But her measure would require some White House concessions including greater congressional oversight and more access by lawmakers to classified intelligence briefings.

White House officials are signaling the Wilson compromise is acceptable, and they believe it could heal part of the GOP's split over the scope of presidential authority. However, the wiretap program isn't nearly as divisive among Republicans as the president's proposals for terror detainees. 

Infighting and the elections
McCain and his group in the Senate are standing firm in opposing the president's bill. The McCain-led Republicans have been joined by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Hugh Sheldon.  This follows a statement of support for McCain last week by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. 

"The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism,” Powell wrote in his letter.

White House officials and McCain both say negotiations are continuing, but it's hard to see any measure of progress. Republican congressional leaders went to the White House today, but stayed away from the television cameras. 

In other words, the GOP divisions remain, and Republicans would be forced to admit as much if they stepped to the microphones. The problem for Republicans is that the congressional elections are just seven weeks away, and party infighting is not a helpful campaign message.

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