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Inside Politics

Bush nudges intelligence overhaul bill

Stiff opposition from Republicans puts measure's fate in doubt

From Ted Barrett
CNN

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September 11 commission leaders Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton urge Congress sweeping intelligence changes.
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CNN's Elaine Quijano on the status of the intelligence bill.

Donald Rumsfeld denies he campaigned against the bill.

CNN's John King on GOP resistance to Bush's agenda.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush publicly added a nudge Tuesday to a push to get the stalled intelligence overhaul bill through this Congress.

Meanwhile, leaders of the bipartisan panel that investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, met with Vice President Dick Cheney about overcoming stiff opposition to the legislation from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

The meeting was part of a lobbying blitz launched by former 9/11 commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton in an effort to push the intelligence measure out of Congress.

"I believe the bill is necessary and important and hopefully we'll get it done next week," Bush said at a news conference during his visit to Ottawa, Canada.

He said he will discuss the bill this week with House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

With only days left before Congress is scheduled to adjourn for the year, time is running out for the bill, which aims primarily to restructure the nation's intelligence community.

"The status quo failed us. Reform is an urgent matter, and reform must not wait until the next attack," Hamilton said Tuesday.

Hamilton has warned of dire consequences if the bill is not passed next week when Congress returns to session.

"You go back to the drawing board, start all over again," Hamilton said on CNN's "American Morning." After this brief session, Congress will adjourn until January.

House Republican leaders pulled the bill before it could come to a vote two weeks ago, saying it did not have enough GOP support to pass.

House GOP aides warned that up to 80 percent of Republican lawmakers oppose the bill -- mostly because it lacks key immigration and border security controls and takes some intelligence authority away from the military.

But Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut said GOP opposition is not that strong. He said Bush could persuade a majority of House Republicans to support the bill if he comes to Capitol Hill to press for their vote when Congress reconvenes Monday.

"If we don't have a vote on September 11th, it will be my feeling that the president didn't weigh in strong enough," Shays said.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republican leaders met for a pre-scheduled legislative retreat at a Virginia resort.

Aides said the leaders would discuss the intelligence bill but that it wouldn't dominate the gathering.

The two key House Republican opponents to the bill, Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter of California and Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, were traveling outside of Washington.

Back on Capitol Hill, two competing groups of families of September 11 victims held news conferences to raise public support both for and against the bill.

Joan Molinaro said she opposes the bill unless it includes new standards for driver's licenses and other steps aimed to curb illegal immigration. She held up a picture of her son, who died in the World Trade Center.

"On September 11, 2001, this was the price I paid for your negligence, for my government failing me," she said before holding up a picture of her two daughters. "This is the price I'm not willing to pay because you continue to fail in your duties. No bill should pass the Senate, the House, anywhere, unless it contains immigration reform. You secure our borders, keep my girls alive."

Beverly Eckert said she supports the bill in its current form, without major border security or immigration provisions.

"We are here in Washington as private but angry citizens to remind the president of why he was elected. It is his job to protect the people, not the status quo. And to remind Speaker Hastert that this is a democracy and to deny Congress the opportunity to vote is tantamount to tyranny," she said.


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