Senators strike deal on detainees, clearing the way for defense bill

Senators who had been fighting all week on the military detention of U.S. citizens and those captured in the United States struck a compromise Thursday afternoon, paving the way for the Defense spending bill’s passage.

The compromise amendment from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) states that nothing in the bill would change existing law for the detention of U.S. citizens, lawful resident aliens or anyone captured or arrested in the U.S., Feinstein said.

Feinstein's compromise amendment passed 99-1. Only Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) voted against it.

It is not clear whether the change will satisfy the White House, which has threatened to veto the Defense bill over the detainee provisions.

The Obama administration expressed its opposition to the use of military detention within the United States, but also had concerns over tying the hands of law enforcement officials by mandating military custody and prosecution of al Qaeda members. The administration also opposes restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees.

A half-dozen senators huddled on the Senate floor late Thursday afternoon to reach the deal as time wound down on debate. The new Feinstein amendment would get a vote as well as her original amendment, which was opposed by Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Those senators all said they supported the second Feinstein amendment because it does not change existing law, unlike the original amendment.

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Levin and the Armed Services Republicans believe that the U.S. can already hold citizens indefinitely by the military, which Feinstein and others disagree with.

“I think a lot has been gained, a clear understanding has been gained of the problems inherent in the original bill,” Feinstein said on the floor. “I think members came to the conclusion they did not want to change present law.”

Both of Feinstein’s amendments will get a vote. The first is likely to fail, as an earlier Feinstein amendment did 45-55 on Thursday. The second one is expected to pass with support from both sides of the detainee debate.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), an opponent of the detainee rules in the current bill, said he agreed with the compromise.

“The Supreme Court will decide who can be detained. The Senate will not,” Durbin said.

The full Senate bill is expected to pass Thursday evening after amendments are considered. If the bill passes, it would go to conference to reconcile with the House bill. Graham said he’s committed to keeping the amendment in the conference report.

—Updated at 7:05 p.m.