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Senate Agrees to Compromise on Detainees

A veto showdown over the Defense authorization bill appears to have been averted after the Senate agreed today to compromise language on detainees accused of terrorism.

The amendment, sponsored by Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), resolved concerns of Democrats and Republicans that the legislation gave the federal government overly broad powers to hold U.S. citizens apprehended on American soil and accused of being enemy combatants. It cleared the Senate 99–1, with Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) casting the lone “no” vote.

The Obama administration had argued that the bill’s original language would hamper federal law enforcement efforts to root out terrorists, but the compromise language should satisfy its concerns.

But Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.), bolstered by Members’ bipartisan support, had said all week that they were determined to press ahead on the original bill despite the White House’s concerns, until late today when the Feinstein amendment was agreed to. Feinstein’s original amendment and other proposals aimed at adjusting the original detainee language were soundly defeated.

“This amendment is a compromise amendment; I think it’s actually a very good amendment,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor just before the vote. She had previously argued for changes to the original language in part to satisfy administration complaints.

In brief floor remarks before the vote, Levin said that he, McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have pledged to defend the compromise provision in a Conference Committee with the House. McCain, in a brief interview just before the amendment’s passage, declined to speculate on whether the legislation would satisfy the White House but indicated that it should put the issue to bed nonetheless.

“It would be a message from the Senate that a majority of us have a pretty firm stand,” McCain said.

Amendment votes were continuing this evening, with final passage of the Defense authorization bill expected to occur later in the evening.

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