This is what the administration's recent pro-waterboarding PR offensive
had been leading up to. But the Republican side backed down.
Later this afternoon, the Senate will be voting on a bill authorizing the government's intelligence activities. Included in that bill is a measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that would restrict the interrogation methods the CIA could use to the Army Field Manual, which bans waterboarding and other harsh techniques currently used by the CIA. The Republicans had been expected to challenge that provision, forcing a vote. But they didn't. After a vote on the bill in 90 minutes or so, it will be on its way to the President, who has already announced that he will veto it.
So why the sudden retreat? It's not clear how the votes would have come down, exactly. But Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has frequently spoken out against waterboarding, was considered a key vote, creating the potentially awkward situation of him taking a stand against the president. 60 votes would have been needed to retain the measure. Now that situation has been avoided -- for now. If the president follows through with his veto threat, the Senate would hold a vote to override the veto, and McCain's vote would become an issue again, though perhaps this time, not such a crucial one.