The Senate ended two days of bitter partisan warfare over gun control and the death penalty and passed legislation Wednesday to give the federal government broad new powers to investigate and punish terrorism.
The controversial legislation, approved in the wake of the April 19 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, represented a compromise between President Clinton and a leading GOP rival for the presidency next year, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.). The vote was 91 to 8.
Drafted in response to the New York World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings, the bill would give the FBI and other federal agencies new resources and greatly expanded authority to combat domestic and foreign-spawned terrorism.
It would increase penalties for terrorist offenses, give investigators easier access to credit card and other personal records, streamline procedures for deporting immigrants linked to terrorist groups and provide about $1.8 billion over five years to finance a new anti-terrorism center and to hire about 1,000 extra law-enforcement officials.
The House has yet to act on the measure, but its Judiciary Committee is expected to take it up next week, with GOP leaders hoping to send the bill to Clinton's desk before the July 4 recess.
Also included in the Senate bill are stringent new limits on Death Row appeals, an item long sought by GOP leaders. Approval came only after a succession of Democratic amendments to soften the measure were defeated. The appeal limits had touched off the original partisan wrangling over the bill, but the Democratic drive to defeat them collapsed after Clinton reversed his position Monday and endorsed them.
Although the Senate bill ultimately incorporated most of the anti-terrorism measures that Clinton proposed, the partisan maneuvering offered an illuminating look at the way the Senate works--both at its worst and at its best.
A glimpse of the worst was apparent in the supercharged debate on the Senate floor as Republicans and Democrats accused one another of playing politics with the bill in an effort to pursue their separate partisan agendas.
But pressed by Dole and Clinton to resolve their differences, the two sides late Tuesday began working out their differences.
In the end, the Republicans accepted two proposals sought by Clinton on wiretapping and the use of the military in some civilian terrorism investigations, while the Democrats dropped several amendments to strengthen existing controls on handguns.
The result was "a very good example of how the President and the legislative branch can work together, in this case the majority leader and the President working together, to clear the underbrush of amendments . . . not necessary to this very important piece of legislation," said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
Civil libertarians still protested that the bill went too far in giving the federal government the right to pry into the private lives of its citizens.
"This bill is riddled with civil liberties abuses . . . and they are not just directed against foreign nationals," said Laura Murphy Lee, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This bill affects domestic activities and people need to understand that."
While several of Clinton's original proposals were modified to reflect those concerns, the legislation would still give law enforcement agencies broad new authority to investigate and thwart terrorism. Among the bill's provisions are measures that would:
* Permit the use of "roving" wiretaps, with which federal authorities could electronically tail a suspected terrorist by tapping all telephones that the suspect uses without having to obtain separate court orders for each wiretap.
* Allow the FBI to request the assistance of military authorities in terrorism cases involving chemical or biological weapons. Currently, the only exception to a ban on military involvement in civilian investigations is in cases involving nuclear weapons.
* Require the use of chemical tracers, or "taggants," in explosives to enable authorities to trace the materials after a bombing takes place.
* Give the FBI greater access to spending and travel documentation, such as the credit card bills, financial reports and hotel records of a suspected terrorist.
* Establish streamlined procedures for deporting suspected immigrant terrorists at closed court hearings where the government could withhold some of its evidence from a defendant if disclosure would put the nation's security at risk.
Citing concerns about civil liberties, Republicans had watered down the Clinton Administration's surveillance proposals, rejecting language that would have expanded the use of "emergency" wiretaps, which the Justice Department could use to tap a criminal suspect's phone for 48 hours without waiting for a court order.
It was the issue of Death Row appeals reform that stirred the most controversy, however, miring the bill in the kind of partisan warfare that both sides had pledged to forswear in considering the legislation.
Complaining that inmates convicted of capital offenses often wait 10 to 15 years for their sentences to be carried out, Republicans attached a provision that would set a one-year time limit on most Death Row appeals.
Democrats offered a series of unsuccessful amendments aimed at weakening the GOP measure, arguing that such a severe limit would result in the execution of wrongly convicted inmates before they had time to prove their innocence.
"The perpetrators of the Oklahoma City tragedy will have triumphed if their actions prompt us to short-circuit the Constitution," warned Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
Although Clinton supports the reform efforts, until recently he had sided with Senate Democrats who had argued that the controversial issue should not be included in the terrorism bill. But interviewed on CNN on Monday night, the President reversed himself and endorsed the GOP proposal on the grounds that it ought to apply to anyone convicted and sentenced to death for the Oklahoma City bombing.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Response to Terrorism
Highlights of the Senate anti-terrorism bill:
* OFFICERS: Authorizes hiring of 1,000 new federal officers.
* PENALTIES: Increases federal penalties for terrorist crimes and for conspiracies involving explosives; allows death penalty for terrorist murders.
* TAGGANTS: Requires that tiny traceable materials, or taggants, be put in chemicals that can be used for bombs.
* WIRETAPS: Expands the use of "roving" wiretaps on several phone lines.
* ACCESS: Allows the FBI access to credit, hotel and phone records in foreign terrorism cases.
* APPEALS: Imposes one-year limit for Death Row appeals.
* DEPORTATION: Streamlines procedures for deporting alleged terrorist immigrants.
* MILITARY: Allows use of the military to aid in some cases.
* LAWSUITS: Lets U.S. citizens sue terrorist nations for injuries linked to terrorist acts.
Source: Associated Press