Published September 30, 2004
WASHINGTON – The Sept. 11 commission (search) on Thursday urged House Republicans to remove immigration restrictions and new law enforcement powers from a bill that carries the commission's recommendations for reorganizing U.S. intelligence agencies.
"We're very respectfully suggesting that provisions which are controversial and are not part of our recommendations to make the American people safer perhaps ought to be part of another bill at another time," commission leader Thomas Kean (search) told a news conference in the Capitol.
The House has begun moving its version of the bill through five committees, and Republican leaders expect to have the full chamber vote on it next week.
In the Senate, the parallel bill deals only with creating the job of national intelligence director and creating a national counterterrorism center, both recommended by the commission that investigated Sept. 11. But the House bill goes farther by including increased anti-terrorism proposals and expanded penalties for illegal immigration and money-laundering.
John Feehery, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill (search)., said House Republicans think "all of these provisions are directly linked to the commission report."
"We think they will all make the country safer and we're moving forward through the process," Feehery said. "We've gone through the committees, we're going to get to the floor and then we'll get to conference and that will decide what ultimately can be accepted and can't be accepted by members of both bodies."
If the Senate and House pass different bills, a compromise version must be worked out in a joint House-Senate committee and then agreed to by both chambers before it can go to the White House for the president's signature.
The Sept. 11 commission contended that the nation's 15 military and civilian intelligence agencies' failure to cooperate precluded an effective defense that might have prevented the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington. The panel recommended creation of a national intelligence director to control and coordinate all the agencies.
In addition, the commission called for more safeguards at home, such as setting national standards for issuance of drivers' licenses and other identification, improving "no-fly" and other terrorist watch lists and using more biometric identifiers to screen travelers at ports and borders.
While Kean said some of the House immigration and border security provisions "are very, very good and do come right out of our report and we support those very, very strongly," but others are "much more controversial and those are the ones we're concerned about."
Commission vice-chairman Lee Hamilton (search) specifically pointed out "alien removal provisions" as one of those issues.
One of the things the House bill would do is deny immigrants certain court appeals, including banning court reviews of claims that an illegal immigrant would be tortured upon return to his or her home country. American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Timothy Edgar called that part of "the enactment of a hard-line anti-immigrant policy."
The Bush administration opposes that provision, Justice Department spokesman Mark Corello said Thursday.
Hamilton said, "We respectfully submit that consideration of controverisal provisions at this late hour can harm our shared purpose of getting a good bill to the president before the 108th Congress adjourns."
Congress' legislative process will highlight the problematic portions, Feehery said. "We'll find out what is controversial and what is not controversial," he said.
Hamilton and Kean -- who were joined by several other members of the commission -- again endorsed the bill being debated in the Senate, called upon both chambers to push ahead with changing their oversight structures and said the new national intelligence director should have full budget and hiring and firing power.
The House, Senate and White House disagree on how much power the intelligence director should have.
"If you're not going to create, for instance, a strong national intelligence director with powers both appointive and over the budget, don't do it," Kean said. "It's not going to be any better than what you have now."