WASHINGTON -- White House loyalists struggled yesterday to save President Bush's wartime legislative plans from collapsing under Republican squabbles. In cliffhanger votes, a House committee rejected, then endorsed, Bush's proposal to continue tough interrogations of suspected terrorists.
The tug-of-war on the House Judiciary Committee was evidence of the difficulty Bush is having in lining up support for his terrorism-fighting proposals weeks before the November elections.
Democrats sat on the sidelines ``watching the catfights" among Republicans on surveillance and detainee legislation, said the Senate minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.
He noted that the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, was forced to postpone consideration of the antiterror bills this week and that senators are debating border security ``because they have nothing else to do."
To win a largely symbolic endorsement of the White House's detainee proposal in the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans on the panel performed a series of procedural gymnastics. After the measure was defeated in an initial vote, GOP aides wrangled two absent Republican members -- Representative s Henry J. Hyde of Illinois and Elton Gallegly of California -- to turn the rejection into an endorsement.
The proceedings confused some lawmakers as the chairman, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. , Republican of Wisconsin, asked them to repeat their votes.
``I voted no, yes," Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, said at one point.
The ``favorable rating," while not required to send the bill to a full House vote, was worth the fight for White House loyalists struggling to keep the bill alive in the waning days of the congressional session.
Prospects for the bill were not much clearer in the Senate, where the White House and a group of dissenting Republicans were in negotiations over the detainee bill.
Talks continued between the White House and Republican Senators John W. Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina, who are opposed to the president's proposal on detainees.
The House's endorsement of Bush's detainee policy did not mean Republicans on the Judiciary Committee were in lockstep with Bush. Two Republicans, Representatives Bob Inglis of North Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, voted against the Bush bill.
Neither side in the Senate had the 60 votes required to overcome a filibuster and move a detainee bill forward. Negotiators said a deal still was possible.
``Progress has been made," said Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Frist, who supports Bush's position, said he was ``hopeful that very soon agreement can be reached."
On the president's domestic wiretapping program, the main House bill giving it legal status gained steam yesterday when Representative Heather Wilson, Republican of New Mexico and the sponsor of the bill, rewrote it to allow such surveillance of Americans in the event of an imminent terrorist attack.
The revised bill was passed in the House Intelligence Committee on a voice vote.