Frist on the defensive

His $491 billion defense bill has stalled over treatment of detainees, base closures.

Published July 27, 2005 9:03PM (EDT)

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has decided to delay the $491 billion defense bill authorizing funding for next year's military operations, according to the Los Angeles Times. In doing so, Frist has managed to put off a number of highly contentious issues until September. But the delay finds the majority leader engaged in a delicate political triangulation involving himself, fellow Republicans and the White House.

Frist, stymied by not having a sufficient number of Senate Republican votes to pass the defense bill, now has to maneuver around a number of his colleagues. Other Senate Republicans have objected to the defense bill not only because it lacks any provisions that would give Congress a role in regulating the treatment of detainees, but because it would also close down military bases in some of their home states. That has prompted Republican senators such as John Thune of South Dakota and Susan Collins of Maine to voice opposition and to offer their own amendments to the bill.

Sen. John McCain has put forth an amendment that would would "prohibit cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of U.S.-held prisoners, whether detained in the U.S. or elsewhere," according to the Los Angeles Times. As if Frist didn't have enough to deal with, Vice President Dick Cheney has been dispatched by the White House, furtively working to block any amendments pertaining to the Pentagon's treatment of detainees, putting more pressure on the majority leader to pass a defense bill in accordance with the White House's wishes.

The newspaper suggested that the base-closing and detainee amendments are proof of a "growing independence among Senate Republicans as President Bush struggles with declining support for the war in Iraq as well as an investigation in to the involvement of top White House aides in disclosing the identity of a CIA agent."

Maybe some of that independence will rub off on Frist, but unfortunately the majority leader hasn't exactly demonstrated much of the political savvy necessary to navigate the Senate waters. War Room hopes that Frist passes a defense bill in September that gives Congress some oversight as to the regulation of detainee treatment.

By J.J. Helland

J.J. Helland is Salon's editorial fellow in New York.

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