Members of the September 11th Commission are urging President Bush and Republican congressional leaders to overcome roadblocks to final approval of intelligence reform legislation. Families of victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks joined in the appeals, which come less than a week before the House and Senate hold a special session likely to be the last chance to enact intelligence reform this year.
The fate of legislation that would implement the commission's 41 major recommendations for intelligence reform has been hanging in legislative limbo for weeks.
At one point, House and Senate negotiators had reached a compromise on differences between a bill approved overwhelmingly in the Senate, and one in the House.
A vote on the compromise was scheduled, when at the last minute, Republican House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, withdrew the bill amid strong objections by some Republicans.
On Tuesday, the co-chairmen of the September 11th Commission Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, joined by other commissioners, held a news conference to give the bill one last push.
Mr. Kean urges President Bush to use his political clout to overcome objections by Republican lawmakers. "The president has had a lot of success with this Congress," he said. "I wouldn't be the one to advise him on how to deal with it. What we do want is to join with the president in a full court press, to see if we can get this enacted by this Congress."
In objecting first to the Senate's bill, and then to compromise language, some Republican committee chairmen said they were acting to ensure that a chain of command enabling high quality intelligence to get to U.S. troops in the field remains unbroken.
September 11 Commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton says that concern, involving budget and other authorities of a new national intelligence director, is exaggerated.
"Nothing in this bill changes intelligence support to our troops," he explained. "The national intelligence director's authorities for collection and tasking are the same as the DCI's [CIA Director] authorities today."
Mr. Hamilton says lawmakers should seize what he calls a rare "window of opportunity" to enact reforms to meet risks facing the United States, adding that other controversial aspects, such as tougher steps governing the issuing of U.S. driver's licenses, should be put in separate legislation.
For his part, President Bush sought again to put to rest any suggestions he does not support a final intelligence reform bill. He spoke Tuesday at a news conference in Ottawa about the administration's discussions with Republican leaders in Congress.
"I am for the intelligence bill," said Mr. Bush. "I have spoken with Duncan Hunter about the bill, I spoke with Representative Sensenbrenner about the bill. Vice President Cheney today is meeting with members of the September 11 Commission about the bill. I believe the bill is necessary and important and hope we can get it done next week."
Adding their voices to the mix, in separate news conferences on Capitol Hill, were families of people who died in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"Today, we have a broken intelligence community riddled by chaos. We hear continued pointed threats from the terrorists. Yet a strategic plan to make our country safer is in limbo," said Mary Fetchet, a member of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, a group that favored bipartisan Senate legislation:
"How can this country's elected leaders let this bill die? The bill must go to the floor for a vote, with the core intelligence provisions intact," added Beverly Eckert is another member of that group.
Members of another September 11 families group, 9/11 Families for a Secure America, said the compromise legislation doesn't go far enough to secure America's borders and urged it be delayed until the 109th Congress, which convenes in January.