Bush threatens wiretap law veto
January 28, 2008
The White House warned Democratic leaders Sunday that President
Bush would veto a proposal to extend an expiring surveillance
law by 30 days, saying that Congress should quickly approve a
Senate bill favored by the Bush administration.
The move is aimed at forcing Congress to renew and expand the
Protect America Act - which is due to expire at the end of the
day Thursday - and escalates a national security showdown between
Democrats and the White House just before the president's annual
State of the Union address.
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition
of anonymity because of ongoing negotiations with Congress, said
lawmakers "have had six months to not pass a bill - they
don't need 30 more days to not pass a bill."
The veto threat prompted a swift condemnation from Senate Majority
Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nevada), who called the warning "irresponsible"
and said Bush was "posturing" just before Monday night's
"When it comes to providing a strong long-term Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance bill, Democrats in Congress are focused on solutions,
while Republicans are obviously playing politics," Reid said
in a statement.
The White House and Republicans want the temporary surveillance
law made permanent. But many Democrats, spurred on by objections
from civil liberties and liberal groups, have balked at the administration's
demand to add legal immunity for telephone companies, which face
dozens of lawsuits over their role in warrantless wiretaps conducted
after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The heavily Democratic House has passed legislation that does
not include immunity for the telecommunications companies and
would increase court oversight of clandestine spying. The closely
divided Senate, meanwhile, is embroiled in a floor fight over
a bill favored by the White House, which has the support of key
Democrats, including the chairman of the intelligence committee.
Reid, who says he opposes telecom immunity, has repeatedly asked
the White House for an additional 30 days to come up with a new
surveillance bill. House Democrats are scheduled to vote on a
delay on Monday.
The likely outcome in the Senate is unclear. Sixty senators,
including 12 Democrats, voted against a bill that did not include
an immunity provision last week. Senate Republicans have moved
to force a vote on Monday to cut off any further debate in the
hopes of passing the legislation favored by the White House.
Administration officials have acknowledged that ongoing surveillance
would not be immediately interrupted if Congress did not approve
a bill. But they say any lapse would prevent them from opening
new cases under the expanded powers approved by Congress last
August. The nation's core spying law, the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act of 1978, would remain in effect.
In his weekly radio address, Bush said "we cannot afford
to wait" for a permanent legislation.
"If this law expires, it will become harder to figure out
what our enemies are doing to infiltrate our country, harder for
us to uncover terrorist plots and harder to prevent attacks on
the American people," Bush said.
Reid said that "current law ensures that no ongoing collection
activity will be cut off on February 1."
"There will be no terrorism intelligence collection gap,"
said Reid. "But if there is any problem, the blame will clearly
and unequivocally fall where it belongs: on President Bush and
his allies in Congress."