The waterboarding show

Congressional negotiators agree on a ban, but the White House vows a veto.

By Tim Grieve

Published December 7, 2007 1:59PM (EST)

When California Sen. Dianne Feinstein broke with her fellow Democrats and announced that she'd vote to confirm Attorney General Michael Mukasey, she offered some political cover for New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who had all but locked himself in to supporting Mukasey before the nominee seemed to go sideways on waterboarding.

In providing cover, Feinstein also sought it: She said that Congress should "explicitly ban 'waterboarding' and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques for all parts of the government." A little more than a month later, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to such a ban, writing into the intelligence authorization bill a requirement that the interrogation rules of the Army Field Manual -- which don't allow waterboarding -- begin to apply government-wide.

Mission accomplished? Not exactly.

The bill still has to win final approval in the House and Senate, and Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra is predicting that someone in the Senate will use a "point of order" to strike the ban. Even if that doesn't happen, the bill will need the president's signature before it becomes law. And as anyone could have predicted back when Feinstein was seeking comfort in the thoughts of future legislation, the White House says George W. Bush will veto the ban if it gets to him.

Sen. Kit Bond, the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says Bush would be "right" to veto the ban, which he calls a "short-sighted, feel-good amendment."

If that sounds more like a movie review than a legislative critique, maybe that's because this is all theater now. The part of the show we'll be watching: Will Republican Sen. John McCain, who seems to enjoy lecturing Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani about the horror of waterboarding, actually show up for a vote in Congress if and when it comes time to try to override a presidential veto?

Tim Grieve

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

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