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Bush called on to push intel reform

Democrats and Republicans are urging President Bush to press holdout GOP lawmakers to get compromise legislation overhauling U.S. intelligence agencies passed this year.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Democrats and Republicans are urging President Bush to press holdout GOP lawmakers to get compromise legislation overhauling U.S. intelligence agencies passed this year.

“I would challenge the president now,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “He says he has political capital. He owns the Congress — the House, the Senate, all of that. There is no reason this bill can’t be voted on.”

Asked whether Bush was doing enough to twist arms of resisting Republicans, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: “I think he’s going to have to sooner or later, and he’s going to have speak with one voice. I think the administration has to speak with one voice on this.”

Boxer and Roberts commented Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday that Bush was expected to send a letter to congressional leaders later this week urging lawmakers to pass the legislation as soon as possible.

“Look, we’re going to continue to talk with the speaker and with the majority leader and with leaders of the conference committee and get this thing moving forward,” McClellan said.

Even as they appealed for passage, two powerful opponents of the deal — Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin — showed no signs of wavering on a measure intended to put in place recommendations from the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has expressed concerns that the intelligence realignment could interfere with the military chain of command.

'Specifically, Hunter said the link between troops and combat support agencies that run intelligence-gathering satellites of battlefield movements would be broken. That would mean “life and death to our people in the field,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wants the bill to deal with illegal immigration. “We have to do something about plugging up our immigration laws,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The chairman of the Sept. 11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, said separate legislation, debated at a later time, could address those concerns.

Kean, a Republican, also urged Bush to exert more pressure on those in his own party who remain opposed to the bill.

With the overhaul stalled after lengthy negotiations, the crucial question “is whether it will pass now or after a second attack,” Kean said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

While Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney already have lobbied for the bill, Kean said, “The president has got to go to work.”

The House and Senate each passed its own version of an intelligence reorganization in October, leading to the negotiations that produced a tentative deal earlier this month. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert, heeding the concerns of Hunter and Sensenbrenner, did not allow a vote before Congress left for Thanksgiving.

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the lead negotiator for Senate Republicans, said the compromise bill has wide support in both chambers. She expressed confidence it would pass if Hastert were to schedule a vote on it when lawmakers return to the Capitol on Dec. 6.

Collins, appearing on Fox with Hunter, said the bill would not endanger U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. “The fact is there is nothing in this bill that in any way hinders military operations or readiness,” she said.

The legislation would create a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, as the Sept. 11 commission recommended.

If lawmakers fail to pass an overhaul this year, they will have to start from scratch next year. With a new Congress taking office in January, bills that failed to pass in the current session expire and new legislation would have to be introduced.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the Sept. 11 commission’s vice chairman, said the time is now to act.

If the bill does not pass this year, then “you go back to the status quo, the structure of the intelligence community unchanged since before 9/11, and it is not likely to be changed for six months or more,” Hamilton said.