Bush Slams Court Threat to Wiretaps; Democrats Block Effort to Protect Surveillance

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Byline: Stephen Dinan and Charles Hurt, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

President Bush yesterday said the courts are threatening his wiretapping program and called on Congress to pass a law to put the program on sounder footing, but one hour later Senate Democrats blocked an effort to do just that.

Mr. Bush, speaking in Atlanta as part of a series of war-on-terror speeches, said his administration has made substantial progress in correcting the mistakes that allowed the September 11 terrorist attacks to happen. Delivering a five-year anniversary report card, the president said the nation boosted domestic security and disrupted terrorist plots through better intelligence and military action abroad.

"We've learned the lessons of September the 11th. We're changing how people can work together. We're modernizing the system. We're working to connect the dots to stop the terrorists from hurting America again," Mr. Bush said.

But the president said a federal court in Michigan has jeopardized a key tool, the terrorist surveillance program, which allows the government to listen to phone calls between the U.S. and overseas without a warrant. Mr. Bush said he expects the ruling to be overturned, but wants action from Congress to protect the program.

"A series of protracted legal challenges would put a heavy burden on this critical and vital program," the president said. "The surest way to keep the program is to get explicit approval from the United States Congress."

But during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, Democrats blocked consideration of such a bill. Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, likened the bill to a "rubber stamp" by authorizing almost everything the administration requested.

"The president has basically said: I'll agree to let a court decide if I'm breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I'm not breaking the law," Mr. Feingold said.

Democrats then invoked a parliamentary rule forcing the committee to disband for the day and blocking further action on the bill.

Chairman Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who has said publicly the program should be more closely monitored by Congress and the courts, accused Democrats on his committee of filibustering the bill.

"We have seen the incipient stage of filibuster by amendment," he said during one pointed exchange. "Filibuster by speech, filibuster by amendment. …