House Approves Massive Intelligence Overhaul

Posted December 7, 2004 at 8:19pm

After months of discussion and a contentious, two-week delay of final passage, the House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday night to approve a massive reorganization of the nation’s intelligence network.

The measure passed, 336-75, with 67 Republicans and 8 Democrats voting no. Senate passage is expected Wednesday.

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) acknowledged before the vote that “this is not a perfect product” but added a message to the families of 9/11 victims: “We got the job done. The process worked.”

The final vote came only after House-Senate conferees, the White House and Hastert managed to tweak the bill enough to win the support of a substantial portion of the House GOP Conference.

Initially, Hastert had planned to vote on the measure before Thanksgiving, but he scuttled that plan after Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) convinced many Republicans that the bill did not do enough to protect the military chain of command for intelligence information and Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and other Members called for the measure to tighten immigration laws.

The House went ahead with Tuesday’s vote only after GOP leaders determined, during a morning meeting of the Conference, that there was sufficient support for passage.

Republicans described Tuesday’s meeting as much calmer than the pre-Thanksgiving gathering that had originally convinced Hastert to delay the intelligence vote. While pockets of resistance re-emerged during Tuesday’s meeting, most skeptics within in the Conference were reassured by Hunter’s support for compromise wording on military control of intelligence and by Hastert’s assurance that the House would address immigration concerns next year.

A few Republicans still chose to oppose the bill because they did not believe it did enough to tighten immigration laws, but their opposition wasn’t nearly large enough to prevent easy passage.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on the measure. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) blocked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) from simply passing the intelligence measure by an unrecorded voice vote.

“Our side is willing to do a voice vote,” said Frist. “I’ve got people all over the country. … People are traveling.”

But Byrd insisted that Frist call all 100 Senators back to Washington to weigh in on the measure by having a roll-call vote.

“The people pay us to represent them, and voting on legislation is a primary responsibility. A roll-call vote is one way in which elected officials are held accountable by the public,” said Byrd in a statement. “Why even have a legislative body if we are willing to abdicate our responsibilities to debate and vote on such a massive reorganization of our intelligence agencies?”