Sensenbrenner Not Afraid to Dig in His Heels

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (search), who almost succeeded in scuttling the intelligence overhaul bill, is not one to aim for a partial victory.

"If you hold out for half a loaf, you probably end up getting a fifth of a loaf," the Wisconsin Republican said in an interview with The Associated Press. "If you hold out for a full loaf, you end up getting a lot more."

The more in this case is a promise from House and Senate leaders to arrange votes in early 2005 on Sensenbrenner's idea to help fight terrorism: barring illegal immigrants from getting U.S. driver's licenses.

For two weeks, Sensenbrenner and Rep. Duncan Hunter, (search) R-Calif., essentially blocked a House vote on the intelligence bill (search). Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, held out because the bill watered down the immigration measures he sought.

Congress passed the bill last week after negotiators reached a deal with Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Hunter was concerned that the new national intelligence director might insert himself into the chain of command between the president and military commanders in the field.

The deal, however, left Sensenbrenner out in the cold.

"I'm not happy about it," Sensenbrenner said. "While I might have lost, I do have a commitment that we will be dealing with these (immigration) issues early on when Congress comes back. These issues are now tops on the national agenda."

Just a week earlier, he had dismissed the suggestion that Congress pass the intelligence bill and take up his immigration ideas next year as "Washington-speak for killing a proposal that's popular."

Sensenbrenner did not flinch in taking on families of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack victims. Many of these advocates accused Sensenbrenner of obstructing the Sept. 11 commission (search) and the majority will in Congress.

It's not an unfamiliar role for the bear-like Sensenbrenner.

Last year he clashed with the father of kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart over legislation to set up a nationwide communications network for locating abducted children. Ed Smart's 15-year-old daughter was taken from her Salt Lake City home before being reunited with the family nine months later.

"I'm not prepared to vote for something that might look good on a bumper sticker that's not going to deal with the job," Sensenbrenner said. "I will tell victims' families that."

Sensenbrenner insisted that the Amber Alert legislation include more severe penalties for child pornography, child sex crimes, kidnapping and other offenses.

"His unwillingness to let the Amber Alert pass on its own is hurting children," Ed Smart said in a nationally televised interview about 18 months ago. Senate Democrats accused Sensenbrenner of endangering the bill with "unrelated" items, a criticism that was also leveled at him on the intelligence bill.

But as he did this year, Sensenbrenner held firm, and eventually won passage of a broader bill.

In a telephone interview with the AP last week, Smart said that in retrospect, he sees the importance of the measures Sensenbrenner fought for.

"I guess you have to use pressure on one to get the others looked at, which is very frustrating," Smart said, adding that the debate over the intelligence bill brought back memories for him.

Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis., said Sensenbrenner is "a guy of single-minded determination."

"He can be a really tough opponent and a great ally," said Green, who serves on the Judiciary Committee with Sensenbrenner. "No one will ever say you don't know where Jim stands."