The Senate on Thursday gave the green light to President Obama to transfer the accused plotters of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the United States to be tried in civilian courts.
Republicans had tried to tie Mr. Obama’s hands by offering an amendment that would have applied to anyone accused of being behind the attacks on New York and the Pentagon, but Democrats said civilian courts can handle suspected terrorists, will ensure they get faster trials and will enhance the U.S. reputation around the world. They blocked Republicans on a 54-45 vote, though four Democrats and one independent joined the Republicans.
“They are criminals. They committed murder,” said Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, who said civilian courts have handled plenty of terrorist cases and are able to take even the worst of those being held at the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He said Mr. Obama should have the freedom to choose whether civilian courts or military commissions are the best option.
But Republicans said choosing civilian courts means forgetting the lessons learned the hard way on Sept. 11, 2001, that al Qaeda is at war with the United States.
“Tell the president that we’re not going to sit by as a body and watch the mastermind of 9/11 go into federal court and criminalize this war,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
The fight came as the Senate debated a spending bill to fund the Justice and Commerce departments and federal science spending. That bill passed bill passed late Thursday evening on a 71-28 vote.
Meanwhile, across the Capitol, the House voted overwhelmingly to extend unemployment benefits and the first-time homebuyer tax credit, sending the bill to Mr. Obama for his signature.
It marks the fourth time lawmakers have extended jobless benefits since the recession began in December 2007.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bill is an integral part of trying to put the economy back on track, and said every dollar invested in unemployment benefits stimulated $1.60 in new economic demand.
“It’s hard to think of any other initiative we can name that is this beneficial to job creation,” the California Democrat said.
The House passed the measure in a 403-12 vote, with Republican members casting all the “no” votes. Some Republicans objected to giving out-of-work Americans more benefits because they said it discouraged the jobless from seeking work.
In other action, the Senate blocked an effort to have the Census Bureau tally citizenship in next year’s count.
Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, had sought the information, saying illegal immigrants and other noncitizens who can’t vote are still being counted for purposes of apportioning congressional seats.
But Democrats said adding in a new question now would cost $1 billion and could push the census back, meaning states wouldn’t be able to redraw their congressional districts in time for the 2012 election. They voted 60-39 to cut off debate on the spending bill, meaning Mr. Vitter’s amendment could no longer be offered under the rules of debate.
The Senate also rejected Sen. Tom Coburn’s amendment that would have stripped money from the National Science Foundation’s political science research program.
Mr. Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, argued the government shouldn’t be funding what political pundits do for free on television, but political science professors said their work is valuable and has helped understanding of elections and world politics.
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