Senate Democrats

Whitehouse: President Playing Political Games On Foreign Intelligence

Washington, DC—Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island delivers this week’s Democratic Radio Address.  Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Rhode Island Attorney General who sits on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, urges the President to work with Congress to give our intelligence professionals the tools they need to do their jobs while protecting Americans’ civil liberties.  Instead, the President is rejecting an extension of the current FISA law and trying to jam a bill through the House rather than let the legislative process work. 

The text of the radio address, as delivered, is below:

“Hello, I’m Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island.  I’m a former U.S. Attorney and Rhode Island Attorney General, and I serve on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

“This week, instead of working with Congress in a calm, constructive way, the President, unfortunately, has chosen to manufacture a sudden and unnecessary confrontation over reauthorization of our foreign surveillance laws.  We Democrats urge the President to work with Congress to provide our intelligence professionals needed authorities while protecting the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

“Both the House and the Senate worked hard to pass bills to improve the Protect America Act, an ill-advised law Congress passed in a stampede last August.  These bills strengthen the Protect America Act: for example, both, for the first time, protect Americans from being wiretapped without a court order outside the United States.

“But the House and Senate bills are not identical, and in the American legislative process, the next step is a negotiation to resolve differences between the two bills.  And Democrats stand ready to do that now.  That is how our system has always worked.  But the President doesn’t want the legislative process to work – instead he has made an unrealistic demand that the House simply adopt the Senate version, and at his request congressional Republicans are preventing negotiations from moving forward.

“America’s bicameral system of government is designed to bring broad, bipartisan consensus to important laws.  We’re at the finish line.  Letting the House and the Senate complete the process would strengthen support in Congress and among the American people, and give the intelligence community greater legal certainty for surveillance activities. 

“Negotiation should take place immediately.  In the meantime, Democrats are willing to extend the current Protect America Act.  But the President has threatened to veto any extension, and Senate Republicans have blocked such a bill.  Every House Republican voted against extension of the law. 

“We know this President dislikes compromise, but this time he has taken his stubborn approach too far.  He is whipping up false fears, and creating artificial confrontation.  As the President himself said in the Rose Garden, ‘there is really no excuse for letting this critical legislation expire.’  So let’s get it done.

“But the President instead chose political gamesmanship, rejecting a short extension of the Protect America Act that would allow Congress to complete its work.  Make no mistake: If the surveillance law expires, if any intelligence loss results, it is President Bush’s choice.  Period. 

“Fortunately, the President’s decision to allow the Protect America Act to expire does not, in reality, threaten the safety of Americans.  As the President is well aware, existing surveillance orders under that law remain in effect for a year, and the 1978 FISA law remains available for new surveillance orders.

“I urge the President to come to his senses.  Democrats have taken significant and important steps to strengthen the laws governing surveillance, and to make sure that privacy protections for Americans aren’t left in the dust.  The President should work with us to enshrine these new protections in the law of the land.  He should also sign into law the torture ban passed by both houses of Congress that would make crystal clear that America condemns torture and will not stoop to the techniques of the Spanish Inquisition. 

“Our values, and our American process of government, are what make America strong.”