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White House to revise terror proposal

 

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ANNE PLUMMER FLAHERTY, AP | September 19 2006

WASHINGTON - The White House and maverick Senate Republicans have begun a fresh round of talks over how to handle the nation's most dangerous terrorism suspects, resuscitating GOP hopes for approving a key piece of the president's anti-terror agenda before the November elections.

In a new offer, the White House has conceded changes to its previous proposal, while the Senate Republicans who challenged the administration's plan say they are once again hopeful a deal could be reached.

While no details have been divulged, the change in rhetoric was in stark contrast to last week when the two sides began counting votes and turned to the press to plead their case. And it came amid indications that Bush's plan was in increasing trouble in the both chambers of the GOP-run Congress.

"We share the president's goal of enacting legislation preserving an effective CIA program to make us safe, upholding Geneva Convention protections for our troops, and passing constitutional muster," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (news, bio, voting record) in a statement Monday.

Graham, R-S.C., helped lead the charge against the administration's bill, alongside Sens. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain, a prisoner of war in the Vietnam War.

The Senate Armed Services Committee last week passed the senators' proposal by a 15-9 vote, with mostly Democratic support. The president's measure would go further, allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and allowing coerced testimony. Bush also favors a narrower interpretation of the Geneva Conventions that would make it harder to prosecute U.S. interrogators for using harsh techniques.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino on Monday confirmed the administration was sending new language to the senators in hopes of reaching an agreement. The revision was expected to address specifically the nation's obligations under the Geneva Conventions, a major sticking point with the three Republicans.

House and Senate leadership have delayed plans for a floor vote on the administration's plan.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, rescheduled a Wednesday vote, claiming the Judiciary Committee needed time to review the bill. A congressional official speaking on condition of anonymity said House leaders were now uncertain they had enough votes for the Bush plan to prevail.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., announced Monday the Senate would turn to a border security measure instead.

Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, said, "The leader wants to give the senators a little more time to find a way to come together with the president and most Senate Republicans behind a program that gets the type of information from terrorists that best protects the country."

The White House has said the Senate bill as written would put an end to the CIA interrogation program.

An agreement would prevent a GOP showdown on the floor and keeps Republicans from having to choose between backing Bush, as they have done in the past on anti-terror issues, and fellow Republicans known as leaders on national security issues. Facing tough elections this fall, Republicans are trying to sell themselves to voters as having a unified front in being tough on terror.

On Monday, Warner appeared to have the majority of support in the Senate, with at least 52 votes in his favor if Democrats backed him, as expected.

GOP Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe of Maine said they favor Warner's bill, joining Warner and three other Republicans who voted for it during the committee meeting last week.

So far, though, neither side has been able to muster definitively the 60 votes necessary to prevent a Senate filibuster that would kill their proposal.

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