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Congress Gives Final OK to Detainee Bill
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Congress Gives Final OK to Detainee Bill

Politics

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED From NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Congress gave its final approval today to the sweeping revision of U.S. policy on trying and interrogating suspected terrorists. It was one of the lawmakers' last acts as they get ready to leave town until after the midterm elections. Their exit leaves a pile of bills and promised reforms undone for a lame duck session to address after the vote in November.

NPR's David Welna reports.

DAVID WELNA: The House voted one final time today on legislation setting guidelines for questioning and prosecuting so-called unlawful enemy combatants. The final vote was 250 to 170, a margin of victory that was 5 votes smaller than a House vote two days ago. Democrats cast all but 8 of the votes against the bill. Still, 32 House Democrats, and a dozen more in the Senate, voted for the bill. One of them was New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg.

FRANK LAUTENBERG: I agonized about it because I'm typically someone who wants to protect everybody's rights. But this I felt I owed to the survivor families. That's why I did it.

WELNA: But as he ceremonially enrolled the bill this afternoon, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert left no doubt this vote will be ammunition for Republicans midterm election campaigns.

DENNIS HASTERT: Unfortunately the Democrats have not joined us in this fight, especially our fight to win the war on terror. They pretend that America's not at war while Republicans work to prevent another September 11th.

WELNA: The midterm campaigning is clearly in full swing. Here's Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid today defending his party's record on national security:

HARRY REID: America must succeed in Iraq and we need to win the war on terror. But this president and this Republican Congress are the wrong people for the job, obviously.

WELNA: Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said he expected he'll be holding votes at 3:00 tomorrow morning on border fence and anti-abortion legislation.

BILL FRIST: I just hope we'll have everybody very patient over the next 24 to 36 hours and then we'll have everybody out and have our nation's business done.

WELNA: But West Virginia's Robert Byrd, who's the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, bemoaned the fact that a new fiscal year begins tomorrow and Congress will have finished only 2 of its 12 annual spending bills.

ROBERT BYRD: I regret that we have once again so markedly demonstrated in the United States Senate that keeping our jobs far outweighs the desire to do our jobs and do those jobs well.

WELNA: House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said there's no one to blame but the Republican majority.

NANCY PELOSI: This is right at their doorstep. They boasted of a mandate. They have the White House. They have the Senate. They have the House of Representatives. This is their job performance. I would go further and say not only are they a do-nothing Congress, they're a make matters worse Congress if you're a working family in America.

WELNA: House Republican Tom Cole of Oklahoma disagreed.

TOM COLE: I, for one, am very proud of this Congress and what it's accomplished. And I look forward to working with our friends on the other side of the aisle so we can accomplish more.

WELNA: Including lobbying reform, which had promised by Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott.

TRENT LOTT: How much did we get done? Could you refresh my memory on that? We're going to have to do more next year.

WELNA: David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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