Bush Demands Action on Terrorism-Suspect Bill

Facing a split with some Senate Republicans, President Bush urges Congress to pass legislation defining acceptable interrogation and prosecution procedures for terrorism suspects held outside the U.S. legal system. At a Rose Garden news conference, he said action is vital because "the enemy wants to attack us again."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.

Less than a day after a key senate committee rejected a White House plan for trying suspected terrorists, President Bush is making his case again.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: This enemy has struck us and they want to strike us again. And we'll give our folks the tools necessary to protect the country. That's our job. It's a dangerous world. I wish it wasn't that way. I wish I could tell the American people don't worry about it, they're not coming again. But they are coming again and that's why I've sent this legislation up to Congress.

MONTAGNE: President Bush, speaking this hour at a news conference in the Rose Garden. Yesterday the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected the president's plan for military tribunals for terror suspects. The committee approved its own legislation, a bill the White House strongly opposes. Joining us now is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. And Don the president was speaking quite forcefully there. Is this all in response to the Senate committee's action yesterday?

DON GONYEA: I think we have to see it that way. He has taken the approach that he has to come out and respond to this aggressively. It's interesting, those who oppose him on that Senate panel are not so much the Democrats but the prominent Republicans - Senators McCain and Warner and Graham. There was also a letter opposing the president that was sent to Senator McCain yesterday from the president's own former secretary of state, Colin Powell. So he is today in this press conference trying to kind of win over the senate by portraying this, in again, very stark language as we just heard there.

MONTAGNE: Well as you said, we're talking prominent Republicans. How difficult is the president's position here?

GONYEA: It is very tricky because, again, he's very used to going up against Democrats who oppose him in the Senate. And you know, they talk about Defeatocrats and you hear that kind of language. These are all prominent senators who, who have worked with him in the past on many, many issues. So it makes it much more complicated and that is why I think he has not gone after any of them personally. He even, a little bit, sounded conciliatory today when he said listen, there's only one thing I want - whatever legislation they send me, the CIA and intelligence leaders need to tell me that they can continue doing the work that has already protected America from future attack. So he puts it in those terms, but still, the differences between the two are, are very significant and the fact that these are Republicans makes it even more complicated.

MONTAGNE: Is the Senate rebellion finally a surprise to the White House?

GONYEA: You know it does seem to be a surprise. You get the sense that the White House thought that they'd be able to smooth things over here and that the main conflict would be with Democrats. So the president has got to do some, you know some, some backfill almost to try to kind of get things back in order here.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Don Gonyea thanks very much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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