Bush reiterates support for intelligence bill

Amid calls for greater White House involvement in efforts to pass the stalled intelligence reform bill, President Bush on Tuesday strongly stated his support for the measure

"Let's see if I can say it as plainly as I can - I am for the intelligence bill," Bush said during a press conference in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

The bill, reached after weeks of work by House and Senate negotiators, has been in limbo after House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., refused to hold a vote last month due to the opposition of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis. Hunter has opposed the bill, in large part, due to concerns that the national intelligence director position created by the bill could jeopardize the ability of military commanders to receive battlefield intelligence. Sensenbrenner's opposition has centered on a lack of provisions in the compromise bill concerning illegal immigration.

The White House has faced repeated calls by supporters of the reform bill both inside and outside of Congress to do more to secure its passage. Bush said Tuesday that he planned to talk by the end of the week with Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., "to express to them" his support for the measure.

Bush also said that Vice President Dick Cheney met with the former members of the Sept. 11 commission, which included a call for the creation of a national intelligence director in a set of recommendations it released this summer. Speaking before the meeting, former commission Chairman Thomas Kean said the purpose of the session was to help "coordinate efforts" on the bill's passage.

"We want to find out from him [Cheney] what we can be doing that we're not doing, perhaps. We may have some suggestions for him as to ways we think he might be helpful. And we think he's a very important player in this," Kean said.

Last month, Cheney reportedly personally contacted Hunter in an unsuccessful effort to seek his support for the intelligence reform bill.

Kean also said that he believed Bush's support for the bill was genuine and that the president would do "everything he can" to see it approved.

"This is a president who means what he says and says what he means. People recognize that. He said he'd support this bill in the campaign, he's said it since, and I don't have any doubt about that," Kean said. "So I do believe that his support is going to be important and I believe vital as we get this bill through."

Lawmakers are expected to again consider the bill when they return to Washington for a two-day session beginning Dec. 6. Hastert has reportedly indicated, though, that he will not hold a vote on the bill without the support of a majority of House Republicans and the backing of Hunter and Sensenbrenner.

Kean and other former members of the Sept. 11 commission called again on lawmakers to approve the bill next week, expressing concern that "momentum" for intelligence reform may be lost if lawmakers wait until when Congress formally reconvenes in January to address the issue.

"The choice is between this bill and the status quo," Kean said. "The status quo failed us. The status quo does not provide our leaders with the information they require to keep the American people safe. Reform is an urgent matter, and reform simply must not wait until after the next attack."

While noting the executive orders signed by Bush this summer that increased the authority of the director of central intelligence, former Sept. 11 Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said Tuesday that such measures did not go far enough in implementing effective intelligence reform.

"We think one of the key points here is that these changes have to be institutionalized and made permanent, and they are … not done that way unless you have legislation passed," Hamilton said.

"Executive orders come and they go. Policy-makers come and they go. This is a great big complicated government, and it is necessary to put into place the permanent institutional changes if you want to strengthen and enhance the intelligence community," he added.

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