Congress Reaches Deal on Intelligence Bill
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KWAME HOLMAN: When Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert arrived at the Capitol this afternoon, it still wasn’t clear whether he would schedule a vote on the long-fought-over intelligence reform bill. For weeks, he had resisted.
REP. PETE HOEKSTRA: The speaker wants to get it done; the president wants to get it done. But we want to get it done right.
REP. JANE HARMAN: I’d love a vote to be scheduled today, if that’s possible, certainly no later than tomorrow morning.
KWAME HOLMAN: Even before Thanksgiving, when it appeared an overwhelming majority of Democrats and a solid number of Republicans could provide the bill with the votes needed to pass in the House, it wasn’t enough for Hastert.
The speaker believed that unless, and until, a majority of his majority Republicans could support it, there should be no bill. All Democrats could do was complain.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: We say to Speaker Hastert a rule that says 26 percent shall always govern, that you need a majority of the majority, doesn’t make much sense in a democracy.
KWAME HOLMAN: Republican opposition to the intelligence reform bill was led by two powerful House chairmen, Duncan Hunter of the Armed Services Committee and James Sensenbrenner, the Judiciary Committee chairman.
Hunter’s main concern was that the creation of a new national intelligence director, as called for in the bill, could interfere with the current chain of command that supplies military intelligence to battlefield commanders. Sensenbrenner was holding out for stronger language on illegal immigration.
But all the while, pressure on Speaker Hastert to get a bill passed was mounting. Last week while visiting Canada, President Bush insisted he wanted a bill.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I believe the bill is necessary and important, and hope we can get it done next week.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president called on Congress to act during his weekend radio address.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I will continue to work with the Congress to reach an agreement on this intelligence bill. I urge members of Congress to act next week so I can sign these needed reforms into law.
KWAME HOLMAN: And again today in the Oval Office:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I certainly hope the bill gets to my desk soon. I believe we have addressed the concerns of, by far, the majority of members of both the House and the Senate. As we speak, we’re working with the key members to address concerns.
KWAME HOLMAN: And many of the 9/11 families, upset that the bill hadn’t passed, held a vigil at ground zero in New York City this weekend. Today, they were at the capitol to lobby the speaker.
BEVERLY ECKERT: Some of us family members decided to leave a note for the speaker at his office. We thought that he should be reminded that, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, the arbitrary use of power is called “tyranny.”
KWAME HOLMAN: However, behind the scenes at the capitol today, progress was being made to resolve the intelligence bill stalemate.
Sens. Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman, two of the main architects of the intelligence reform bill, rewrote parts of it to address the concerns raised by House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter.
And late this afternoon, Hunter and his Senate counterpart, John Warner, emerged at the Capitol to say they now were satisfied.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER: The chain of command in a military operation goes from the president to the secretary of defense to the combatant commander in his area; in this case we would talk about Afghanistan and Iraq, it’s General Abizaid.
And that means that all of the assets that are in that particular theater, whether they’re aircraft that send images down to the troops so they know where the bad guys are or send signal intelligence down to the troops, those platforms are under the command of that particular commander and his subordinate field commanders.
That means that when somebody is in a shooting battle, they get information when they need it. And so, we’ve — we have what we think is very satisfactory strengthening and protection of this chain of command. We think that’s going to accrue to the benefit of our troops. And, as a result of that, as a conferee, I’m strongly in support of this legislation.
KWAME HOLMAN: But Hunter also said he could not speak for Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, who has not gotten the stronger immigration reforms he has pressed for.
Still, that concern was not expected to be enough to hold up final passage of the intelligence bill in the House tomorrow, followed by quick approval in the Senate on Wednesday.
JIM LEHRER: Now, how all of this looks to two of Speaker Hastert’s predecessors: Republican Newt Gingrich, who was speaker from 1994 to 1998; and Democrat Tom Foley, speaker from 1989 to 1994. Speaker Gingrich, it appears there is going to be an intelligence bill after all. Was it ever really in doubt?
NEWT GINGRICH: I think absolutely. Speaker Hastert made very clear a principle, which I frankly learned from Speaker O’Neill and Speaker Wright and Speaker Foley. And that is, if you can’t get a majority of your own members to vote yes, then a pretty prudent speaker doesn’t bring a bill up.
Duncan Hunter was the key because — and, remember, by the way, that the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner was sharing Duncan Hunter’s concerns. This wasn’t just a House problem. And I think that the legislative process is working. The president had to have some negotiations. They had to modify the bill. They had to meet the concerns of the uniformed military as expressed by Chairman Hunter.
I think they’re going to get a bill tomorrow, but it could have fallen apart without the president’s persistence and I suspect without some help from Speaker Hastert.
JIM LEHRER: Speaker Foley, is Speaker Gingrich right that Speaker Hastert was just doing what he and others learned from you and others who came before?
TOM FOLEY: Well, to some degree, of course. You don’t want to routinely be bringing bills to the floor that a majority of your own party is opposed to. The speaker is the speaker of the whole House; he’s also the leader of his party in the House of Representatives.
But I’ll give you a couple of examples where I brought bills to the floor without a majority of the majority, without a majority of Democrats. One was the resolution in 1991 that authorized President Bush 41 to use military force in Iraq. The second was the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which a majority of Democrats opposed, that was passed because I brought the bill to the floor with a majority of Republicans, so it’s not an ironclad rule.
I think you don’t want to bring bills to the floor that a majority of your party is opposed to routinely but sometimes when a great issue is at stake, I think you need to do that.
Secondly, I could never quite understand Chairman Hunter’s objection to the bill because the satellites which he was concerned would not be available to battlefield commanders have not been under the direct control of the secretary of defense. Their positioning for the last half century has been by a committee headed by the director of Central Intelligence. The tactical unarmed aerial vehicles, the drones and so on, have then and now been controlled by the secretary of defense.
So it was to a certain extent an argument over semantics. It has been resolved. I think now the speaker will bring and hope he will bring the bill to the floor. And the questions that Chairman Sensenbrenner has I think will have to be resolved next year.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Speaker Gingrich, that it was basically an argument over semantics rather than issues?
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, I think there were very deep feelings in the Pentagon that these kinds of changes going on in the middle of a real war where young Americans are risking their lives and are being killed, that there was a lot of caution about this.
But I also just want to say because of the way the story was introduced, remember you had a Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, who has been enthusiastic about obstructing things on the Senate side complaining that Speaker Hastert was going a little bit slow.
You had a suggestion that this was purely a House Republican problem when, as I said, Sen. John Warner, not exactly a trivial figure in the Senate, a serious man, a former secretary of the navy, in fact, agreed with Duncan Hunter and agreed with those people in the military who were worried.
So I think when you’re risking American lives in uniform, you have to go a little slower. This is going to be successful. And let me predict this is the model for the next two years. The president is going to have to patiently, calmly, steadily negotiate, go to the country, negotiate, go to the country, but he’ll get a lot done if he follows this kind of pattern.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree — go ahead, Speaker Foley.
TOM FOLEY: Can I say first of all, the president supported this bill. And I don’t think anybody believes that the president would put our troops at risk. The vice president supported this bill before this recent change in language. And his counsel actually drafted the chain of command language that was passed by the Senate.
All 51 senators including Senator Warner voted for that bill. So I think to suggest that it’s a problem raised by Democrats, clearly, the votes existed. I understand the sensitivity of voting without a majority of the majority perhaps. But there are some issues I think which justify that. When the president is for the bill, the vice president is for the bill, the withdrawal of objections by Chairman General Myers was accomplished a few days ago.
And now of course we have both of the principal concerns that Newt Gingrich mentioned, Duncan Hunter’s and to some degree the cautions of Senator Warner removed, the bill should have clear sailing when it’s brought up tomorrow and it should be back in the Senate by Wednesday.
JIM LEHRER: Speaker Gingrich, to your point that this really isn’t a House thing but, sir, it was two House committee members have stopped this bill in its tracks.
NEWT GINGRICH: No. That’s just not fair. I mean.
JIM LEHRER: These committee Chairmen Sensenbrenner and Hunter. The bill was moving and suddenly it stopped because these two guys didn’t want it voted on.
NEWT GINGRICH: Now, wait a second. First of all, to have the Senate define what a bill is and therefore we have to accept the Senate bill, the bill was in conference. The bill was being negotiated. The Senate wanted to rush through their version. Speaker Hastert, representing his party in this case, in the House, the House Republican Party, slowed down the process, insisted on negotiations as Speaker Foley just pointed out.
The negotiations have now occurred; a very powerful chairman has been convinced he’s doing the right thing. I suspect that Chairman Sensenbrenner will be given an opportunity early next year to bring up a bill on drivers’ licenses, a serious matter by the way which was also recommended by the 9/11 Commission. So it’s interesting that when Sensenbrenner has something the 9/11 Commission recommended, that somehow doesn’t count and senators only look at the parts they like and what they insist on.
So the process is working. The president is going to win a significant victory this week but so is the legislative process and the right of members of Congress to insist on looking at legislation carefully and negotiating carefully, and I think that’s better for America than having it ram-rodded through.
JIM LEHRER: Speaker Foley, let me just ask you to follow up on what Speaker Gingrich said.
He said it a couple times, that is this is the process and it’s working and what is really involved here is the legislator — the legislative branch saying, “Wait a minute. We’ve got some voice here as well” and they just exercised it. Is that what this is about?
TOM FOLEY: It’s about that but it’s also about other things. I don’t want to cast question on motives, but there is always, as Senator McCain said, the issue in Washington of control over budgets and control over jurisdiction, those are very powerful motives.
In any case, I think if it hadn’t been for Chairman Hunter and Chairman Sensenbrenner’s objection, I believe the speaker would have brought the bill to the floor because he was instrumental in helping develop it. Now that those objections have been removed on the defense side, the bill should go forward. I would disagree a little bit with my friend Newt that the commission recommended exactly what Jim Sensenbrenner has talked about.
He is concerned that drivers’ licenses not be permitted for undocumented aliens. That is not a part of the 9/11 commission report. Ten states allow drivers’ licenses for undocumented aliens. He also objected to certain asylum provisions which were not part of the 9/11 commission report. But in any case, we have I think the basis for a successful passage of this bill. That’s good news.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let’s go back to another point, Speaker Foley, another point that Speaker Gingrich made that essentially what Speaker Gingrich is saying, “Mr. President, get used to this. This is going to happen time after time after time on important legislation; the conservative wing of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives is not going to be rolled over.” Do you read it the same way, Congressman Foley?
TOM FOLEY: I read it a little differently. I think certainly the majority party is going to have the right and they would think the obligation to tell the president what they think a majority of their party will support. But it’s also going to be clear, I think, that in the next session, very difficult things — reform of the Social Security system, the reform of the tax provisions, which are both high on the president’s list– will require probably more than the majority of the majority.
To pass, they probably will require Democratic support in the House and in the Senate. Those great reform movements of the past, those basic changes in our fundamental programs have gone best and most successfully when they’ve had bipartisan support, not one party with its majority ramming through the bills but a serious legislative consideration by both parties in a cooperative effort by both parties to reach a good solution.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Gingrich, did I see you nodding your head there when Speaker Foley was speaking?
NEWT GINGRICH: Absolutely. If you go back to what I said a minute ago, I didn’t say you had to pay just attention to the conservative Republicans of the House. I think legitimately — and I agree exactly with Tom Foley on this — the big issues that the president wants to move are issues of domestic change.
He’s going to find that the vast authority he has as commander in chief really doesn’t work when you get to domestic change. He’s going to have to roll up his sleeves and negotiate with senators of both parties, negotiate with House members of both parties, put together majorities that are a little different than pure partisan majorities.
I agree with Tom. I think that the president — and I think this is good for America — the president is going to make lots of proposals in his inaugural and in his state of the union and then the Congress and all those committees are going to start holding hearings and mark-ups and negotiating.
And it’s going to be a long, tedious two years, but if he will slow down and take the time to work with the members and go to the country and build popular support, he will get a lot done in the next two years but it will be very different than the way in which they were able to ram things through when it was matters of the commander in chief faced with national security crises.
JIM LEHRER: So I mischaracterized. I mis-paraphrased what you were saying?
NEWT GINGRICH: I was not talking about kowtowing to the Republican conservatives in the House. I was saying that as a general rule we’re reverting to the normal legislative process that Tom Foley was describing earlier. I remember when I was actually working to help the Democratic president pass NAFTA, you know, it was a bipartisan effort on both sides.
When I helped count votes as the whip on the issue of the Iraq resolution of 1991, it was a bipartisan effort on both sides. I think you’ll see a lot more of that kind of step-by-step bipartisanship building these issues rather than just ramming it through with one party’s votes and in the process you’re going to find the president and the vice president have to spend a lot of time listening to members of Congress which is exactly how the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.
JIM LEHRER: Speaker Foley, go ahead and say what you were going to say.
TOM FOLEY: I was just going to say, and I think from time to time the speaker may have to consider passing or allowing a bill to come up for a vote that will represent a bipartisan consensus but not necessarily an absolute majority of the majority party.
I understand that instinct not to do that routinely. But the two examples that Newt Gingrich just gave, the 1991 resolution on the first Iraq War and NAFTA could not have happened if as speaker — I was speaker then — if I didn’t choose to bring the bill up because a majority of the Democrats did not support the legislation. Their votes were essential to passing both but a majority of the majority did not exist at that time.
JIM LEHRER: You agree with that, don’t you, Speaker Gingrich?
NEWT GINGRICH: I think there can be circumstances like that if they develop but when you have the president of the same party as the majority in the House and Senate the president ought to be able to get — remember we’re only asking him in this case to get say 116 or 118 Republican votes in the House out of 232 or 233.
I mean, a president who can’t get that number of votes in this kind of setting, NAFTA was an unusual case, I think that he’s got to really look at what is doing and why is he splitting his own party?
I think in this case — and that was a key part of what Denny Hastert was faced with. Speaker Hastert didn’t just have two strong chairmen. He apparently had some whip counts that indicated there were a lot of members who weren’t ready to vote yes. And that’s why he slowed the process down. All I’m suggesting is that was exactly right. The president reacted to that correctly. We’re going to get a bill passed I think tomorrow. And that’s good for the country.
JIM LEHRER: Speaker Foley, finally, were the pundits right though to put this in very stark President Bush terms? If President Bush couldn’t get this intelligence bill passed by his own party in the House and Senate that this would show his new term is off to a bad start?
TOM FOLEY: Well, I think they were right in the sense that the president had declared on several occasions recently in the last week that he was for this bill. He wanted to see it passed. He wanted to come to his desk.
And if it had — and if he had been unsuccessful in convincing a majority of not only the Congress but a majority of his party to support that, I think it would have augured poorly for his success in the next session of Congress where more difficult problems await: The Social Security reform, which is going to be controversial on the privatization side and reform of the tax bill which would be a major, major undertaking.
JIM LEHRER: What’s your reading on that, Speaker Gingrich, about how much the president had at risk here?
NEWT GINGRICH: I thought the president had a great deal at risk. I thought coming off an election victory such as he just had, a party-wide election victory, gaining seats in the House and Senate with an issue of national security like this, it would have been a very bad sign for the next Congress if he had walked off.
I’m very proud of the way the president weighed in. And, as I said, I think he did it exactly right.
He didn’t try to roll over the House Republicans but he raised the heat with some public speeches and some real appeals and he negotiated simultaneously.
And I suspect in the end, they actually will have learned a little bit about how to work together out of this process. I think it’s a big win-win for everybody who is involved so I think he did it exactly right.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, thank you both very much.