In a defeat for US President George W. Bush, rebellious House Republicans derailed legislation to overhaul the nation's intelligence agencies along lines recommended by the Sept. 11 commission.
"It's hard to reform. It's hard to make changes," said Speaker Dennis Hastert, who sought unsuccessfully to persuade critics among the Republican rank and file to swing behind the measure.
Hastert's decision to send lawmakers home Saturday without a vote drew attacks from Democrats and capped an unpredictable day in which prospects for enactment of the measure seemed to grow, then diminish, almost by the hour. He left open the possibility of summoning lawmakers back in session early next month.
The White House urged Congress to keep working on the legislation.
"The president is committed that we do everything possible to build on the intelligence reforms that have already been made," White House deputy press secretary Claire Buchan said.
A compromise approved by key negotiators, the White House and the bipartisan 9/11 commission would have created one position to oversee the CIA and several other nonmilitary spy agencies. A new national counterterrorism center would coordinate the fight against terrorism.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney both contacted congressional negotiators by phone in hopes of nailing down a compromise that could clear Congress in the final hours of the session.
But Representatives Duncan Hunter and Jim Sensenbrenner, chairmen of the Armed Services and Judiciary committees, raised objections. Hunter, a California Republican, worried that parts of the bill could interfere with the military chain of command and endanger troops in the field.
"In my judgment, this bill, without strongly reaffirming the chain of command, would render that area confused to the detriment of our Americans in combat so I will not support it," Hunter said.
Hunter said he knew that the president and Hastert wanted this bill, but "what we have to do here is exercise our best judgment."
Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, wanted additional provisions dealing with illegal immigration.
"Unfortunately, the Senate has refused to consider many of the provisions, tagging them as extraneous or controversial," he said.
A group of 9/11 families praised Sensenbrenner for holding out for his illegal immigration provisions.
"Even though the 108th Congress is at its very end, we urge it to let the bill die until the next Congress rather than further weaken the immigration and border security provisions," said the 9/11 Families for a Secure America in a statement.
But another group of 9/11 families called it "unconscionable" that Sensenbrenner and Hunter would stand in the way of the agreement. "They remain unapologetic as they pursue an agenda that is contrary to the express wishes of President Bush and Vice President Cheney," said a statement from the 9/11 Family Steering Committee.
If lawmakers fail to pass legislation this year, they will render moot three months of hearings and negotiations that started with the release of the commission's report in July.
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