WASHINGTON – President Bush is making last-minute calls to congressional leaders in hopes of shaking loose a deal on legislation to implement the Sept. 11 commission's (search) recommendations on how to make the country safer from terrorist attacks.
The president's task may have been made easier on Thursday when the nation's top military officer said lawmakers had adequately addressed a provision in the intelligence reform (search) bill that he had objected to publicly.
Two influential House lawmakers — Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (search), R-Calif., and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, (search) R-Wis. — were still opposing legislation Thursday that would create a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center to face terrorist threats.
Negotiators are working down to the wire in hopes of getting an agreement so the House can vote Monday on legislation to enact the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission's recommendations. If the House goes ahead, the Senate could act Tuesday and send the legislation to the White House for Bush's signature.
The president on Thursday called House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and told them he wants an intelligence bill completed. Bush was expected to send a letter Friday to Congress laying out his wishes.
Sens. Susan Collins (search), R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman (search), D-Conn., the lead Senate negotiators, said they were not prepared to reopen negotiations, and said they expect the president's letter would endorse their compromise.
Meanwhile, 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, although he refused to endorse the compromise.
The legislation has not received noticeable support from the Pentagon, which now controls much of the money that would go to the national intelligence director. Crucial to winning Hunter's support is ensuring that the Defense Department would retain direct control over the agencies that operate the nation's spy satellites and analyze the information they pick up.
Under the legislation, the intelligence director would oversee the CIA as well as Pentagon-controlled agencies such as the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites, and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which analyzes satellite pictures.
Hunter says battlefield commanders need direct access to those satellites and should not have to waste time by asking the intelligence director's permission to use the equipment.
"We need to have here a strong chain of command between the combat support agencies — those are the satellite agencies and those who do the signal intelligence and the pictures — and the warfighters on the ground in the Department of Defense," he said in an interview with The Associated Press last week.
"In my judgment this bill ... would play into rendering that area confused to the detriment of our Americans in combat, so I will not support it," he said.
But Collins said Thursday there was nothing in the bill that would hinder military operations.
"The bill leaves tactical and joint military intelligence under the exclusive control of the Pentagon. The language could not be clearer on that point," Collins said.
She said the bill would put into law "the existing practices where the CIA director sorts through the priority uses of national intelligence assets, such as spy satellites that are relied upon not only by our military, but by the secretary of state and a host of other consumers."
Sensenbrenner says he would have signed onto the compromise last week if the Senate had agreed to close what he called loopholes in asylum laws that he said some terrorists have used to try to get into the country.
He pointed to Mir Aimal Kansi, a Pakistani who was convicted and executed for killing two people outside the CIA's headquarters in 1993.
Kansi entered the country and asked for political asylum, which won him a routine one-year work permit. He used that to get a Virginia driver's license, which in turn allowed him to purchase the AK-47 police contend he used in the killings.
"We have a number of cases, which did not include 9/11 but included other terrorists who have come and applied for asylum in the United States, who were paroled and have been running around loose plotting terrorist attacks before they actually had their hearings before the immigration judge," Sensenbrenner said.
He said the House bill had six features "to plug the asylum laws, so people who were dangerous to American people could be identified and deported before they could hurt the American public."
The Senate rejected those provisions, ensuring his opposition, Sensenbrenner said.
Lieberman said the legislation is not the place to rewrite immigration law. "This ought to wait until another day," he said.