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Inside Politics

House approves intelligence bill

Senate scheduled to vote on reform bill Wednesday

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, far right, is greeted by family members of 9-11 victims after the House vote.
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The House-passed intelligence reform bill paves the way for sweeping changes.

CNN's Ed Henry on the intelligence bill agreement.
Military Intelligence
September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House of Representatives passed the intelligence reorganization bill Tuesday, voting 336-75 to enact the changes proposed by the independent commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The Senate -- which passed a largely identical measure before Thanksgiving -- is expected to vote on the bill Wednesday.

The vote ended a two-week impasse between the Senate and the House. President Bush was credited with pressuring his fellow Republicans in the House to break the stalemate.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush monitored Tuesday's debate on C-Span.

"The president is very pleased with House passage. He knows this bill will make America safer," Duffy said. "He looks forward to Senate passage and signing the bill into law."

The bill would overhaul the U.S. intelligence community by placing the budgets and most assets of 15 spy agencies under a new post of national intelligence director. (More details)

The leaders of the bipartisan 9/11 commission, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and onetime House Intelligence Committee Chairman Lee Hamilton, said the bill's implementation "will require careful oversight," but they were "deeply gratified" by the vote.

The bill stalled November 20 when House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter and House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner persuaded House Speaker Dennis Hastert not to bring it to the House floor for a vote.

Hunter, a Republican from California, and others said they feared the bill would give too much power to the national intelligence director, preventing battlefield commanders from having timely access to necessary satellite intelligence.

Sensenbrenner and his supporters pushed for a number of tougher immigration standards that were dropped during House-Senate negotiations in conference committee.

Among them were provisions that would have barred states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants and limited appeals for immigrants facing deportation.

Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, held the bill, and House-Senate conferees went back to work to find language that would ease the concerns of the congressmen.

Many Democrats and Republicans were angered because they said they had the votes to pass the bill -- without the two congressmen and their supporters.

Bush pushed for the bill in his radio address Saturday and in a letter Monday to Congress, and Vice President Dick Cheney joined in the weekend talks.

Hunter gave his support to the measure when new language in the bill directed the president to issue guidelines for the intelligence director "in a manner that respects and does not abrogate the statutory responsibilities of the heads of the departments."

But the compromise that brought the bill to a vote left out the tough immigration standards Sensenbrenner supported, and he was joined by 66 other Republicans and eight Democrats in voting against it.

Prior to the vote, a top leadership aide said Republicans expected from 20 to 40 of their members to vote against the bill -- and that anything above 50 would be "troubling."

Immigration questions set for next year

Sensenbrenner said that excluding the immigration standards from the final bill was "a recipe for disaster -- the same kind of disaster that occurred on 9/11."

The Wisconsin Republican often cites the fact that the 19 hijackers on September 11 had more than 60 licenses among them as a reason for the provision regarding driver's licenses.

"That's what we were trying to stop by changing the provisions in the conference report, and I regret that we failed. But I can assure you this issue is not going to go away," Sensenbrenner said.

Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said the bill does bolster U.S. immigration controls.

It would add 10,000 border guards and 4,000 more border inspectors to the federal payroll over five years, and would add 40,000 beds to detention centers housing illegal immigrants over the same period.

Republican Rep. David Dreier of California, said the licensing provisions would be added to the first "must-pass" bill next year -- likely the Iraq war supplement.

The immigration issues also include political asylum changes and completion of a fence on the Mexico-California border.

Dreier said it was unclear when the new House would discuss the Iraq bill.

Several relatives of some of the 3,000 people killed in the 9/11 attacks watched the final debate from the House gallery.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi praised relatives of those killed in 9/11 who lobbied in support of the bill, saying they "turned their grief into action."

"We will never forget their loss, and America thanks them for their courage," the California Democrat said.

Opponents said many other 9/11 families opposed the measure and backed Sensenbrenner's immigration proposals.

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

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