Thursday, December 15, 2005

McCain's Amendment Is Getting Closer to Passage

The White House is about to give in on the McCain Amendment. Yesterday, the House agreed, by a vote of 308 to 122, to support the amendment. The vote is nonbinding, as was the earlier Senate vote of 90 to 9, but it's undeniable evidence that there is strong bipartisan backing in Congress for the ban on torture, even among Bush's traditionally most unwavering cheerleaders.

The Bush administration tried to kill the amendment when it was first proposed. When that attempt failed, Dick Cheney pushed aggressively for the insertion of an exemption from the ban for the C.I.A. That didn't fly, either.

The only compromise Bush seems likely to get is the one currently being negotiated between McCain and the White House: It would allow C.I.A. interrogators accused of violating the ban on torture to use the "reasonable person" defense contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Martin Sieff, senior news analyst at UPI, writes that the unprecedented shattering of the control Bush has had over Congress, and especially the House, in getting the Republican majority to support him on every issue, has a name: Tom DeLay.

The House of Representatives vote to support a ban on the use of torture Wednesday night was non-binding, but it was still an epochal event -- the biggest reversal on national security the Bush administration has ever experienced.

By House standards, the vote was an overwhelming one: 308 votes to 122. The Republican majority in the House split down the middle with only 122 supporting the president and almost as many - 107 -- voting against. The vote endorsed a measure to bar cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody that had already passed the Senate by 90 votes to nine. But it was a lot more than that.

Over the past five years, President George W. Bush has enjoyed one of the most disciplined and uncritical House majorities of any president in modern times. Not since President Lyndon Baines Johnson pushed through his historic Civil Rights and welfare legislation in the 1964-66 congressional term has any president been able to command and bend the notoriously fractious House so much to his will as Bush did through his first term. And this occurred even though the president had been elected with significantly less votes in 2000 than his main opponent, Democratic candidate Al Gore. Under the iron direction of House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House voted unprecedented increases in military spending budgets, especially after the mega-terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and it never seriously asked where any of the money went.

But now DeLay is tied down, fighting not just for his political life but his very freedom, facing grand jury indictments back in Texas. His feared, tight discipline over the GOP Majority on Capitol Hill is gone, no clear successor has dared raise his head yet, and House members, only a year after Bush was reelected to a second term with more votes than any other president had ever received in American history, are running scared that national anger over the unending war in Iraq will threaten many of their seats in the November 2006 midterm congressional races.

The current House Republican leaders, trying to keep DeLay's leadership slot warm for him for when he has beaten the rap, if he ever does, had sought to avoid any vote, even a non-binding one, on the issue, knowing that it was likely to embarrass President Bush, who has been hanging tough against any measures to outlaw the use of torture.

Instead, Wednesday's vote made clear that nearly half the GOP members in the House are so angry and even disgusted over the president and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's refusal to clearly and comprehensively ban the use of torture by U.S. forces around the world, more than a year after the revelations about Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, that they were ready to openly defy the White House on the record about it.

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