White House loyalists are fighting to save President George W. Bush's anti-terror plans from collapsing under Republican squabbles in Congress. In cliffhanger votes, a House of Representatives committee rejected, and then endorsed, Bush's proposal to continue tough interrogations.
The tug-of-war on the House Judiciary Committee was evidence of the difficulty Bush is having in lining up support for his proposals just weeks before November's elections.
Democrats sat on the sidelines "watching the cat fights" among Republicans on the surveillance and detainee legislation, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said.
Reid noted that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was forced to postpone consideration of those bills this week, and senators are debating border security "because they have nothing else to do."
To win a largely symbolic endorsement of the White House's detainee proposal, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee performed a series of procedural gymnastics.
After an initial vote resulted in rejection, Republican aides brought in two absent members -- Representative Henry Hyde of Illinois and Elton Gallegly of California -- and called four additional votes before finally gaining a 20-19 endorsement. It still must be voted on by the full 435-member House.
Things became muddled as Republican Representative James Sensenbrenner asked members to repeat their votes.
"I voted no, yes," Representative Louie Gohmert, also a Republican, said at one point.
The "favorable rating," while not required to send the bill to a full House vote, was worth the fight for White House loyalists struggling to keep the bill alive in the waning days of the congressional session.
Prospects were not much clearer in the Senate, where the White House and a group of dissenting Republicans were in negotiations over the detainee bill.
One top Republican predicted the House would accept any deal worked out between the White House and the opposition senators.
"If the Senate and the White House have reached an agreement, that is probably what would end up becoming law and making its way to the president's desk," said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra.
Intricate negotiations on both interrogation techniques for detainees and legalizing the president's warrantless wiretapping program left the prospects for passage uncertain, even after a meeting on Wednesday between Bush and Republican congressional leaders.
For the White House, there was some good news.
The House Intelligence Committee approved by voice vote a bill that would put into law the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. The sponsor, Representative Heather Wilson, had rewritten the measure to make it more to Bush's liking. The Judiciary Committee later endorsed a similar version, 20-16.
Wilson's revision, likely to draw Bush's support, is the bill that probably will make it to the full House.
Under Wilson's revised bill, the president may conduct the secret surveillance only under specific conditions. For example, the president must notify Congress within five days of authorizing surveillance, name the entity that poses the threat and state the reason for believing the attack is imminent.
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