House GOP leaders may drop detainee language from bill

The House Republican leadership is moving to strip a controversial amendment on detainee abuse out of the pending defense spending bill in the hopes of putting off that debate until next month or 2006.

The House Republican leadership is moving to strip a controversial amendment on detainee abuse out of the pending defense spending bill in the hopes of putting off that debate until next month or 2006.

House leaders, desperately trying to persuade GOP centrists to vote for their budget-reconciliation bill, do not want to deal with the sensitive detainee issue right now.

Still, House Democrats are looking to press the matter next week by offering a measure on detainees that appears to have enough votes to pass.

The White House has repeatedly said it would veto the defense spending or authorization bills if they contain amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that seek greater controls on the treatment of military detainees. The administration opposes any provisions that it determines would restrict the president’s ability to fight the war against terrorism.

But next week, appropriators most likely will drop McCain’s amendments on the treatment of the detainees from the defense spending bill and are planning to leave it up to authorizers to settle the matter in their pending bill.

“The detainee issue is going to move to the defense authorization bill and not be considered on the appropriations bill,” said a GOP source with knowledge of the negotiations, adding that there is a 90 percent chance this scenario would happen.

The administration’s position on detainees is hurt by its low approval ratings and recent reports on detainee torture and national security leaks. House leadership is in line with the White House position, opposing McCain’s legislation.

Dropping the McCain amendments from the defense appropriations conference report would face stiff resistance from Democrats and centrist Republicans.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), ranking member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, is planning to offer a motion to instruct on detainee treatment. The motion, which will be consistent with the McCain amendments, is backed by at least 15 centrist Republicans. With that kind of GOP support and expected unanimous approval from Democrats, the motion would attract a majority of the House.

Motions to instruct are nonbinding, but passage of the Murtha measure would be a political setback for House Republican leaders and the administration.

There is resistance on part of the House leadership to deal with the detainee issue, said Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), one of the 15 Republicans who have spoken out in favor of the amendments.

“I would consider voting against the entire defense budget if it is not there,” Shays told The Hill. “We will defeat it and then bring it up again.”

Other Republican supporters are Nancy Johnson and Rob Simmons of Connecticut; James Walsh, Sherwood Boehlert and Randy Kuhl of New York; Joe Schwarz and Vernon Ehlers of Michigan; and Ron Paul of Texas.

House Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters Tuesday that he would consider using his whip organization to beat back a motion to recommit but said that would largely depend on the circumstances surrounding the motion. He added that he hopes “the issue is largely worked out” before the bill comes to the floor.

McCain, Senate Armed Services Committee vice chairman, scored a major victory last month when the Senate voted 90-9 in favor of his amendments on the treatment of detainees.

Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was one of the nine senators who voted against McCain’s amendments. Siding with him were Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee and one of the Senate conferees, and Kit Bond (R-Mo.), another conferee.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) voted for the McCain legislation.

On Tuesday, Stevens said that he is inclined to keep the detainee amendments on the defense appropriations bill because the Senate voted for them by an overwhelming majority.

Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Committee, has said several times that the detainee issue is a policy issue and therefore should be decided by authorizers, not appropriators.

Once the defense authorization bill goes to conference, potentially by the end of the year, the detainee amendments are likely to trigger strong resistance from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.).

He has repeatedly defended how the United States military treats detainees.

Patrick O’Connor contributed to this report.

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