WASHINGTON – White House loyalists struggled on Wednesday to save President Bush’s wartime legislative plans from collapsing under Republican squabbles. In cliffhanger votes, a House committee rejected, then endorsed Bush’s proposal to continue tough interrogations of suspected terrorists.
The tug-of-war on the House Judiciary Committee was evidence of the difficulty Bush is having in lining up support for his terrorism-fighting proposals weeks before the November elections.
Democrats sat on the sidelines “watching the catfights” among Republicans on surveillance and detainee legislation, said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
He noted that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., was forced to postpone consideration of those bills this week and that 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, committee Republicans performed a series of procedural gymnastics. After an initial vote resulted in a 20-17 count against the measure, GOP aides wrangled two absent members, Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois and Elton Gallegly of California, for four more votes to turn the rejection into an endorsement.
The proceedings became muddled as Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., asked members to repeat their votes.
“I voted no, yes,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, 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 leading Republican predicted the House would accept any deal worked out between the White House and the opposition senators.