Senators may review military's domestic role

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., will decide later this fall how to proceed with a congressional review of a post-Reconstruction-era law that bars the military from participating in domestic law enforcement activities, a spokesman said last week.

Since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in late August, Warner has pushed the Pentagon and Congress to investigate whether the government should amend the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 to give the military police powers during extraordinary U.S. disasters.

Several lawmakers back a review, but most hesitate to endorse immediately any effort to overturn or amend the law.

Airland Subcommittee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he is not convinced the active-duty military should be involved in law enforcement. For his part, Warner repeatedly has said the review should be conducted carefully.

While President Bush has advocated a "broader" domestic role for the military, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has long opposed creating a domestic law enforcement military mission.

In a recent meeting, Rumsfeld assured House Armed Services ranking member Ike Skelton, D-Mo., that he does not plan to recommend changes to the law, according to an Oct. 7 release from Skelton's office. But Rumsfeld also told Warner he is reviewing the issue.

Meanwhile, Warner will continue to work with Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to schedule floor time for the defense authorization bill, shelved in late July after less than a week of debate.

So far, Frist, Warner and Armed Services ranking member Carl Levin, D-Mich., have been unable to agree on parameters for resuming debate, including possible limits on amendments.

Congressional sources say Warner has not given up on the bill, despite a setback this month when appropriators thwarted attempts to attach the authorization measure to the FY06 Defense appropriations bill.

"Sen. Warner is working very hard and is confident we will get a bill up this fall," his spokesman said.

But if an agreement cannot be reached soon, the bill could be a dead issue for this session.

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