By Liz Sidoti: The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Tuesday delayed potential showdowns with the White House over terrorism detainees and closing U.S. military bases after the Republican-run chamber failed to sidetrack amendments on the two contentious issues.
The Tennessee Republican’s decision to put off until fall further consideration of the amendments — and the $491 billion defense bill they were aimed at — came after the Senate voted 50-48 to cut off debate on the overall measure. That was short of the 60 votes Frist and the White House needed to prevail.
Under the Senate’s rules, a vote to limit debate would have automatically killed the terror-suspect and base-closing amendments. The White House has threatened that President Bush would veto the entire defense bill if the amendments were included in it.
Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., sponsored an amendment last week that would halt the closure process and protect Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.
It would delay the BRAC process until the Pentagon finishes this year’s quadrennial defense review, a review of the nation’s overseas military facilities is completed and substantially all major combat units return from Iraq.
White House administration says Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would recommend a veto if amendments are approved that “weaken, delay or repeal” the base-closing process.
Another would allow Congress to remove bases from the Pentagon’s list of proposed closures once those conditions are met. A third would extend whistleblower protections to military members who disagree with the Pentagon’s recommendations and want to share that information with the commission reviewing the proposed closures.
Congress leaves Washington this weekend for a monthlong summer break.
Talk of legislation regulating the treatment of detainees has percolated on Capitol Hill since last year, when the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal in Iraq surfaced. Efforts to craft such legislation gained steam over the past few months amid fresh allegations of abuse and torture at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
White House lobbying against the proposals intensified late last week. Vice President Dick Cheney met with the three Republicans on Thursday to object.
The administration says it will oppose any restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct the war on terrorism and protect Americans.