ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports: The big news in the Senate tonight is that there is a deal between Republicans and Democrats to vote on tribunals bill. Today's deal on military commissions is not to be confused with last week's deal on the same bill, which was just among Republicans.
The deal breaks a legislative logjam that has hobbled Congress' productivity in this, its last week meeting before the midterm elections.
Literally moments after telling reporters just off the Senate floor there was not yet a deal between Republicans and Democrats on how to move toward voting on the Military Commissions bill and the Secure Fences Act, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist took to the Senate floor to announce that there was in fact a deal. And then after several hours of debate, the Senate started voting on amendments this afternoon. The Military Commissions bill, reached in compromise between the White House and renegade Republicans will be divorced from the Secure Fences Act onto which it was to have been added as an amendment. (A vote on whether to add it had been delayed all morning as Reid and Frist haggled over their agreement).
It remains unclear when exactly the vote on this bill will occur. And divorcing it from the border security bill it had been attached to may put in jeopardy a vote on the Secure Fence Act before the November election.
There was frustration among Democrats in the Senate that the bill originally reported as the Senate bill was replaced with the language written for the House bill, which was either a sneaky trick by Republicans or an honest mistake since the House bill reduced some of the protections for detainees in the original McCain-Graham-Warner-White House compromise. It would waive evidentiary rules for all evidence instead of evidence gained "outside the United States." And it would replace the right of a detainee to "examine and respond" to evidence with just the right to "respond" to evidence. It also broadens the definition of what an enemy combatant is -- changing the original compromise of anyone who "engages in hostilities" to anyone who "purposefully and materially".
An attempt by Democrats to scrub the McCain-Warner-Graham-White House wording and replace it with wording passed earlier in the month with a bipartisan vote by the Senate Armed Services Committee failed late in the afternoon.
The House passed its own version of the tribunals bill, 253-168, on a largely party-line vote. The House bill, written after the House Armed Services Committee Chairman and his staff spent last weekend reworking the Senate compromise, has language very similar to what was filed as the Senate bill.
The issue that had stalled progress was between Frist and Senate Minority Harry Reid, who wanted his Democrats to be able to offer amendments on the tribunals measure. Frist preferred that the bill, the product of direct negotiations between the White House and three moderate Republicans (John McCain, R-AZ, John Warner, R-VA, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC), be voted on without amendment.
Democrats will be allowed the opportunity to have votes on five amendments to the Military Commissions Bill, one of which comes from a Republican.1. Sen. Carl Levin from Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee offered the commissions bill written by the Armed Services committee as a substitute to the current language. The substitute Levin is offering was the language used by McCain, Graham, and Warner as a starting point in their initial negotiations with the White House. But McCain and his cadre of renegade republicans had tot oppose their language to support their compromise with the White House, even though the wording of the bill is not what they agreed on. Levin's amendment failed 43-54.
Levin applauded McCain, Graham and Warner for standing up to the White House, but said their compromise does not go far enough to frame the proposed military tribunals within American legal values.
"The committee bill would not have allowed the use of classified information, the committee bill would not have allowed cruel or inhuman treatment of detainees, the committee bill would not allow the use of hearsay and it would not have permitted the reinterpretation of treaties. The committee bill is not perfect on the issue of habeas corpus, but it would have met the test the Supreme Court laid out in Hamdan in a manner consistent with American values," he said on the Senate floor.
2) Republican Arlen Specter, who chairs the judiciary committee and has expressed concerns with the legal rights for detainees in the compromise bill, will offer an amendment to strike provisions that block a detainees right to appeal the judgment of a military commission.
3) Democrats Robert Byrd, D-WV and Barack Obama, D-IL, will offer an amendment to sunset the authorization for the commissions after 5 years, At that point Congress would have to revisit the need for the commissions.
4) Sen. Teddy Kennedy, D-MA will offer an amendment that would require the State Department to notify other signatories of the Geneva Conventions which interrogation practices the United States will consider violations of the Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions..
5) Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, who is the ranking member on the Senate intelligence committee will offer an amendment that would create more congressional oversight of CIA activities.