For the Bush White House, this week's showdown with the Senate over US treatment of detainees sets up a rematch with a triumvirate of GOP senators who have been the president's strongest supporters in the war in Iraq – and his most effective critics.
Sens. John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina led the first push-back in the Senate over the war when they opposed the White House over its torture policy last year.
Now the trio is on a new collision course with the White House over how to bring suspected terrorists to trial – a must-pass bill, since the US Supreme Court overturned the president's plan for military tribunals in June.
Senator McCain, a former prisoner of war in North Vietnam, knows torture firsthand and brings moral authority to the issue. Torture is wrong, he says. Anything that weakens international protections for detainees, "threatens US troops in this and future wars," he said on Friday.
Senator Graham, a military lawyer with the Air Force Reserve for 22 years, said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that President Bush's detainee bill, including its "clarification" of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, would "redefine America in a way that we can't win this war."
Senator Warner, a former secretary of the Navy and now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says he aims to pass legislation that will withstand further review by US courts.
"It would be a very serious blow to the credibility of the United States ... if legislation that was prepared by the Congress and signed [by] the president failed to meet a second Supreme Court review," he said during the committee's markup Thursday.
Senators Warner, McCain, and Graham, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, voted with 11 Democrats on the panel, prompting renewed bids for a compromise with the White House over the weekend.
For Mr. Bush, the issue is national security. In a fiery press conference on Friday, he charged that the rival Senate bill, sponsored by McCain, Graham, and Warner, would derail a CIA program vital to the war on terror. "It's a debate that's really going to define whether we can protect ourselves," he said.
So far, GOP senators opposed to Bush's plan are not blinking.