Bush Makes Final Push on Intel Bill
WASHINGTON – President Bush is making the passage of an intelligence reform bill a high priority and wants it done by next week, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday.
The measure would, among other things, make the recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission (search) law. The topic of Bush's weekly radio address on Saturday will also focus on intelligence reform, McClellan said.
The president plans to send a letter to congressional leaders "soon" outlining his wishes on stalled legislation to create the position of national intelligence director, who would coordinate the nation's spy agencies and enact other anti-terror measures, the spokesman said. The House and Senate return next week and will take a last stab at getting a solution.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., refused to bring a House-Senate compromise up for a vote two weeks ago after two House chairmen, GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter (search) and James Sensenbrenner (search), opposed the solution.
"The White House is working very hard to convince the speaker that he should bring the bill up, and I'm optimistic that he'll decide to do so," Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-author of the Senate version of the bill, told FOX News on Thursday.
Hunter, a Californian who heads the Armed Services Committee, said the intelligence realignment could interfere with the military's chain of command. Judiciary Chairman Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, said the bill also should deal with illegal immigration and drivers' licenses.
Bush's letter will "talk a little bit more about some of those remaining issues that are being discussed as we move forward. And I think the president will continue to talk about the importance of getting this done now," McClellan said Friday.
"Congress has made a lot of progress, and now is the time to get this legislation passed. I think he will talk about the importance of preserving the chain of command in department and agencies."
Bush telephoned Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., on Thursday and told them he wants an intelligence bill (search) completed.
At the White House on Friday, Bush told House and Senate members that "he's working on it as hard as he can," said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. "We've talked to other people who are working on it, progress is being made, and we hope that it can be finished up (next) week."
Senate negotiators said Thursday they expect Bush to endorse the compromise and pressure Hastert to bring it to a vote, despite Hunter and Sensenbrenner's opposition.
"This legislation will improve the quality of intelligence provided to our troops," Collins told FOX News. "I want to make very clear that tactical and joint military intelligence programs remain under the exclusive control of the Pentagon in our bill ... [and] always, always in a time of war, our troops are going to be our first priority. The commander in chief, our president, would never support a bill that would weaken the flow of intelligence to our troops, nor would I."
Collins and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., said the immigration issue is important but can be dealt with separately.
"What we didn't take this year, we'll bring it up again next year" when the new Congress is sworn in, Shays said.
The president's task may have been made easier Thursday when the nation's top military officer said lawmakers had dealt adequately with a provision in the bill that he had objected to publicly.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said his one objection to the compromise bill was resolved. He asked last month that the bill keep money for combat support agencies flowing through the Pentagon instead of going through the proposed national intelligence director.
"The issue that I specifically addressed in a letter to Chairman Hunter has been accommodated, I'm told, in the bill," Myers said. He still refused to endorse the compromise.
Shays told FOX News on Friday that he's confident a vote on the bill will be held next week and that Myers' support will help.
"I think what's significant is that the general [Myers] is going to be helpful, that that's [the combat money issue] not being used as an excuse because General Myers' view is important," Shays said. "The bottom line is, I think we're going to have a vote on Monday or Tuesday … all that's really needed is the bill to come to the floor," he added, noting that it has about 90 percent support of the Senate and anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters support in the House.
"Everyone should vote their conscience on this bill," he added.
FOX News' Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.