President Bush and his allies have consistently warned of the dire consequences of allowing the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire. But the Bush Administration’s threat to veto a 30-day extension of the PAA illustrates that the President and his allies in Congress are more concerned with having a political fight than working to craft a solution. Democrats are focused on legislating: the House has passed a bill and the Senate is working through the legislative process, but Republicans are trying to block debate on this complex and important matter. Bush Republicans should stop playing politics and work with Democrats to find a solution that improves our nation’s ability to fight terrorism while protecting Americans’ civil liberties.
President Bush has repeatedly warned against allowing the PAA to expire:
In August, President Bush Said Protect America Act Made America Safer. “When our intelligence professionals have the legal tools to gather information about the intentions of our enemies, America is safer. And when these same legal tools also protect the civil liberties of Americans, then we can have the confidence to know that we can preserve our freedoms while making America safer. The Protect America Act, passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, achieves both of these goals by modernizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Over the past three decades this law has not kept pace with revolutionary changes in technology. As a result, our intelligence professionals have told us that they are missing significant intelligence information that they need to protect the country. S.1927 reforms FISA by accounting for changes in technology and restoring the statute to its original focus on appropriate protections for the rights of persons in the United States — and not foreign targets located in foreign lands.” [White House Press Release, 8/5/07]
In September, President Bush Said Action on FISA Modernization Would “Directly Affect Our Ability to Save American Lives.” “At stake in this debate is more than a piece of legislation. The decisions Congress makes will directly affect our ability to save American lives. I look forward to working with Congress to enact this legislation as quickly as possible, so that our intelligence officials will continue to have the tools they need to keep the American people safe.” [Remarks by President Bush, 9/19/07]
On Saturday, President Bush Warned That If the Protect America Act Expires, It Will Be Harder to Prevent Attacks Against the American People. “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.” [President Bush Radio Address, 1/26/08]
But the White House is now threatening to veto extending the PAA:
The White House Threatened to Veto An Extension of the Protect America Act. “The White House told Democratic congressional leaders Saturday that President Bush opposes a 30-day extension of an expiring eavesdropping law and instead wants an expanded version to be passed by Friday. ‘The president would veto a 30-day extension,’ a senior administration official said. ‘They’re just kicking the can down the road. They need the heat of the current law lapsing to get this done.’” [Politico, 1/26/08]
Bush Republicans have repeatedly said passage of PAA was citical to our national security:
Senator McConnell Called on Senate to Pass FISA Modernization Immediately. “It’s time for the political games to stop. It’s time to approve this. The nation’s security depends on it. And we will make sure that the Senate votes on the proposal that Senator Bond and I have placed at the desk because it will get the job done according to the DNI, who everybody believes is a trustworthy individual, whose sole responsibility is, is try to protect the United States from foreign attack.” [GOP Press Conference “On the First Seven Months of the 110th Congress,” 8/3/07]
Senator Chambliss Said Intelligence Community Would Be Hamstrung Without Passage of Protect America Act. “‘Our intelligence community is hamstrung unless we update this crucial surveillance law,’ said Chambliss. ‘In my view this is just common sense. The country is facing a very real threat right now. It would be irresponsible not to give our intelligence community tools to gather information from those overseas who are making plans to carry out an attack against the United States, our interests or our allies.’” [Office of Senator Saxby Chambliss Press Release, 8/3/07]
Senator Hutchison Said Giving Intelligence Community Tools Under the Protect America Act Could Be the Difference in Protecting U.S. from a Terrorist Attack. “It was imperative that the Senate pass this FISA reform bill before we adjourned for August recess. We could not in good conscience fail to give our intelligence agencies the tools they require to monitor terrorist communications abroad, which could be the difference between preventing a major domestic terrorist attack and being hit again by an attack that would rival 9/11 in its devastation. When we are asked to provide specific tools to defend this country, while protecting constitutional rights, we must never waiver in this responsibility. With this bill our intelligence community can continue their critical efforts to protect this country.” [Office of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison Press Release, 8/3/07]
Senator Kyl Said New Collection Tools Allowed Under FISA Were Critical to Our Nation’s Security. “We are now able to collect intelligence in ways that were never understood or contemplated 30 years ago when the FISA law was first drafted. As a result, before Congress changed the law last year, U.S. intelligence agencies had lost about two thirds of their ability to collect communications intelligence against al Qaeda. Obviously, in this war, we cannot cede two-thirds of the battlefield to the terrorists. The collection of this information as a result of the PAA is critical to our nation’s security.” [Office of Senator Jon Kyl Press Release, 1/8/08]
Vice President Cheney Said Protect America Act Closed the Intelligence Gap, Congress Has Just a Few Days to Act to Keep the Intelligence Gap Closed. “To its credit, Congress responded by passing the Protect America Act. The legislation made it explicit that traditional FISA protections do not extend to persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States. With President Bush’s signature, this new law ensured that we could quickly close the intelligence gap. And as a result, the intelligence community has been able to do a much better job safeguarding the American people. The unfortunate aspect of the Protect America Act is a sunset provision, which makes the law expire on the first of February — just 10 days from now. That leaves Congress only nine days in which to act to keep the intelligence gap closed.” [Vice President Cheney Speech at the Heritage Foundation, 1/23/08]
But Bush Republicans have repeatedly opposed extending the PAA:
Senator McConnell Objected to a 30-Day Extension of the Protect America Act:
Senator Reid: I am going to ask consent now that the Senate proceed to the consideration of S. 2541 which is a 30-day extension of the Foreign Intelligence Act we will deal with; that the bill be read three times and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table with no intervening action. The reason I ask consent, this bill, expires February 1st. when we pass this bill, the House has to pass their bill and there has to be a conference. I hope we can have this extension so I need not belabor the point, we asked this before we left and I ask again.
The Presiding Officer: Is there objection?
Senator McConnell: Reserving the right to object, my good friend the Majority Leader and I have discussed this, there is a significant amount of time left this month to pass this bill in the Senate and a conference may or may not be necessary. Back in August when we did an extension of the FISA bill, the House simply took up the Senate-passed bill and passed it and on to the President for signature. I think the discussion of extension here, particularly when, hopefully, we will turn to this bill in the very near future here in the senate is not timely and, therefore, I object. [Congressional Record, 1/22/08]
Two Days Later, Senator McConnell Again Opposed Extending the Protect America Act:
Senator Reid: Mr. president, for purposes of making the record clear, I say to my distinguished counterpart, I ask consent that the Judiciary Committee be discharged from further consideration of S. 2541 and that — which is a 30-day extension of FISA and the Senate proceed to its consideration and the bill be considered third time, passed, the motion to reconsider be considered laid on the table.
The Presiding Officer: Is there objection?
Senator McConnell: I object. [Congressional Record, 1/24/08]