The GOP and the detainees: If this is a play, how does it end?

Frist suggests he may filibuster Warner bill, delays action on wiretap proposals.

Published September 20, 2006 1:13PM (EDT)

If GOP infighting over the treatment of detainees is a diversionary drama meant to keep all the bad news from Iraq off the front page -- and we'll admit that, in random moments here and there, the thought has crossed our minds -- Republicans in the Senate are going to pretty extraordinary lengths to play their roles.

The latest evidence: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested Tuesday that he might lead a filibuster to keep the McCain-Warner-Graham bill from getting out of the Senate. As the Washington Post reports, Frist acknowledged Tuesday that the bill has enough votes to pass but maybe not the 60 votes it would need for a cloture vote.

Would the man who has spent the better part of the past four years yammering about "up-or-down votes on the Senate floor" really throw himself in with the "obstructions" to protect either the right to torture or the Republican majority? We're skeptical, and it seems as if the Bush administration isn't exactly itching for that kind of confrontation. As the Post notes, both the White House and the McCain-Warner-Graham team have toned down their rhetoric in recent days as they search for some kind of compromise deal.

Is one in the offing? The New York Times says that the White House had dropped its demand that any legislation contain "clarification" of the meaning of the Geneva Conventions' prohibition against the "humiliating" treatment of detainees, although it also says that it's "not clear" whether the White House has actually "shifted its stance significantly."

Meanwhile, as the Post notes, the Republican leadership in the Senate seems to have suffered another setback in its effort to use the 9/11 anniversary as a time for fighting terrorists and demonizing Democrats. With just nine days left to go in the legislative session, Frist has referred three bills on warrantless wiretapping to the Senate Intelligence Committee for further review. The bills have all passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee and, in the normal course, would have been headed for a vote on the Senate floor. Now they'll face a second round of scrutiny -- well, maybe a first -- from the Intelligence Committee, where Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe, Mike DeWine and Chuck Hagel are awaiting with competing legislation of their own.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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John Mccain R-ariz. U.s. Senate