By an overwhelming vote yesterday, the Senate sent President Bush legislation mandating a sweeping reorganization of the nation's intelligence community, but Congress's completion of that task sets the stage for a more bruising fight early next year over immigration policy.
The Senate voted 89-2 for the intelligence overhaul, clearing the measure for Bush's signature, which is not expected before next week. Only Sens. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., voted against the bill. The House approved the bill 336-75 on Tuesday. Kentucky's senators, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning voted for the bill. It will establish a new national intelligence director with unprecedented authority to consolidate the government's many spy agencies under one leader, with the goal of centralizing accountability.
Congress cleared the bill only after House Republican leaders bowed to demands from dissidents within their ranks that the price of passage must be a promise for Congress to take up ticklish immigration measures early next year. That brewing controversy will test once again President Bush's ability to tame divergent views within his party.
The clash over immigration, which surfaced during the intelligence bill deliberations, has far-reaching policy and political implications. The coming debate already is creating tension between Bush's homeland-security goals and his promise to Mexican President Vicente Fox last month that he would seek to grant legal status to millions of immigrants illegally in the United States.
It also could affect Republican desires to build support among Latino voters, the nation's fastest-growing minority group.
The bill creates a new Cabinet-level officer to oversee the CIA and 14 other intelligence agencies currently housed in different departments of the executive branch -- especially the Pentagon.
The intelligence bill would expand border patrols and add immigration officers. It also calls on states to set minimum standards for drivers' licenses.
But House and Senate negotiators removed controversial provisions that would have made it more difficult for foreigners to obtain asylum in the United States and that would have restricted states' powers to grant licenses to illegal immigrants in an effort to prevent would-be terrorists from using them as identification.