White House stands by veto threat despite Senate compromise bill

The White House is not backing down from its veto threat of the Defense authorization bill after it passed the Senate last night with a compromise on detaining terror suspects.

The bill, which passed 93-7, included a last-minute amendment that said nothing in the legislation would alter existing law when it came to military detention of U.S. citizens and those captured on American soil.

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That compromise, reached between Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), did not change the White House veto threat, a spokesman said in an email to The Hill Friday.

“We have said that the language in this bill would jeopardize our national security by restricting flexibility in our fight against al Qaeda,” press secretary Jay Carney said at Friday’s briefing. “Any bill that challenges or constrains the President’s critical authorities to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the nation would prompt his senior advisors to recommend a veto.”

The compromise did not address one of the primary concerns from the Obama administration: that mandatory military custody of terror suspects would tie the hands federal law enforcement’s counterterror efforts.

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The Senate included a waiver in its legislation that allows the executive branch to move detainees from military to civilian custody, but the administration has said it would be overly burdensome.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller have all said they oppose the legislation. A Justice Department official said Friday that the Senate legislation still mandated military custody for al Qaeda suspects captured both abroad and in the U.S.

The Senate bill also includes language restricting transferring detainees out of Guantánamo for one year that the White House objects to.

The Defense authorization bill still needs to go through conference committee before it’s sent to the president’s desk. It's unlikely, however, that a Republican-led House would seek to weaken the military detainee provisions.