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Rumsfeld supports president on intelligence reform

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Tuesday gave his backing to the intelligence reform bill.
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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies he campaigned against intelligence reform bill.

CNN's John King reports on GOP resistance to Bush's agenda.

CNN's Ed Henry on the fate of the intelligence bill.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his backing Tuesday afternoon to the intelligence reform bill that has stalled in Congress.

"I support the president's position," he said.

Rumsfeld said the president's position was evolving as the details of the bill are being worked out.

"It looks like the House and Senate are having a typical conference where you have a lot of differences, and they've been sorting through those and kind of working their way along," he said.

"Without question, I favor reform of the intelligence community, as the president does, and I have a feeling that they're [Congress] close."

He also denied that he was lobbying in private against the reform bill.

The bill includes many of the recommendations from the bipartisan commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including the creation of a National Intelligence Director.

After the Senate and House came up with different versions of the measure, a conference committee hammered out a compromise that sailed through the Senate with a 96-2 vote in October.

But with Congress headed toward adjournment for the year, House Speaker Dennis Hastert pulled the bill from the floor Saturday after running into opposition from within his own ranks.

A chief sticking point is how much control the intelligence director would have -- particularly over the estimated $80 billion intelligence budget.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter objected to the bill on the ground that it shifts too much control over intelligence operations and budgets from the military to a new national intelligence director.

The California Republican said those changes could compromise the flow of information to troops on the battlefield.

"Those soldiers whose lives depend on that lifeline, when it has the prospect of taking that away, adding to confusion and maybe translating into combat casualties -- that's not good for the country," said Hunter, whose son fought in the Iraq war.

Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to lawmakers several weeks ago urging them to let the Pentagon keep much of its current control over intelligence matters.

But Timothy Roemer, a Democratic member of the 9/11 commission told CNN Tuesday that "there's nothing in this bill that would change that command system, the architecture of information going from a satellite to a war fighter in Falluja."

Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, agreed on Tuesday, noting that Bush supported the bill.

"He obviously wouldn't support it if he thought it would do any damage to the American military," Lieberman said. "So, how can two members of the House stand up to the commander in chief and somehow say that they're going to protect the war fighter better than the president or the rest of us are."

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, wants the bill changed to stop states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.

"I'm not going to cave," he said. "I don't like to vote for things on serious issues that might look good on a bumper sticker, but which I know have so many loopholes that they won't work."

After fielding calls over the weekend from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Sensenbrenner met Monday with Cheney for a previously scheduled session during which the intelligence bill became a prime topic, according to an aide to the chairman.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said the objections to the changes were a battle over turf, and he insisted that the bill would do nothing to disadvantage troops.

"There isn't anybody in the Congress that I know of that wants to do anything that would harm that actionable intelligence to the war fighter, especially during this difficult insurgency we're fighting in Iraq," the Kansas Republican said on CNN's "Inside Politics."

Although the bill might have still passed with Democratic votes, a Hastert spokesman said the Illinois Republican didn't want to split the GOP over the issue and wanted a "majority of the majority" to support it.

Some Democrats charged that Hastert and other GOP leaders didn't want the minority party to get credit for passing the bill, which is supported by many families of 9/11 victims.

Lawmakers could come back after Thanksgiving to pass the intelligence bill if the impasse in the House can be overcome.

If not, the new Congress in January will have to start from scratch, wiping out months of discussions and compromises that crafted the measure.

CNN's Ed Henry, Steve Turnham and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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