Senators struggle for compromise on Sen. Feinstein's detention amendment

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) is trying to reach a compromise with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on her amendment limiting the military detention of U.S. citizens.

Feinstein told The Hill that Levin is seeking to present a substitute to her amendment on the defense authorization bill. The Feinstein amendment is currently written to prevent indefinite military detention for U.S. citizens.

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Levin said he was seeking a different “approach” with Feinstein when asked if he supported her amendment. Levin spoke with The Hill during a brief break while managing the defense bill’s amendments on the floor Thursday.

But it remained unclear whether a deal could be reached, as Feinstein told The Hill that she doubted she would support the compromise measure, at least as it currently stood.

Feinstein and Levin declined to discuss details of any negotiations, which Feinstein said also involved Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). Paul, who earlier this month had threatened to filibuster the defense bill over a vote on indefinite detention, told The Hill that he was not settling for anything short of a vote on Feinstein’s amendment.

During last year’s fight over indefinite detention provisions in the defense authorization bill, Levin sided with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans as the Senate defeated amendments from Feinstein that would have curbed the detention rules. An 11th-hour compromise was eventually brokered that said the defense bill did not change current law.

Feinstein’s amendment seeks to change the detention laws in last year’s defense bill and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.

“I believe strongly the time has come now to end this legal ambiguity and to state clearly once and for all that the AUMF or other authorities do not authorize such indefinite detention of Americans apprehended in the United States,” Feinstein said on the floor Wednesday.

Levin said that Feinstein’s amendment this year is “very different” from her previous measure, but he did not indicate whether he would support it.

Republican hawks in the Senate told The Hill they opposed Feinstein’s amendment, although some showed more willingness than others to consider changes.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said there could be second-degree amendments offered that would allow her to support it, but she did not in its current form.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, said he didn’t think he could negotiate with Paul. The indefinite-detention fight has split the libertarian and hawkish wings of the Republican Party.

“What Feinstein and Rand Paul do is they say an American citizen who joins al Qaeda to attack us should be viewed as a common criminal. I think that is a dangerous concept,” Graham said. “I don’t think there’s any room for negotiation between me and Rand Paul. We have a different worldview.”

Graham said that some of the “demagoguery” over who could be detained by the indefinite detention laws was “outrageous.”

“The limitation of who could be held under the law of war is very narrow, and so when our Tea Party friends come out and say if you go to a Tea Party rally big government is going to come put you in jail as a terrorist, that offends me,” Graham told The Hill.

Asked about Feinstein’s amendment Thursday, McCain told reporters: “Of course I’m opposed.”

But with the mix of liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans, Feinstein said she believed the amendment has “substantial votes.”

The support of Levin and other more hawkish Democrats could ultimately decide the amendment’s fate.

Updad at 4:25 p.m.