What happened? The administration did everything right. The invocation
of "countless American lives" hanging in the balance, the specter
of terrorists delightedly chatting away undetected, the urgency emphasized
by a threat to delay a long-scheduled presidential trip to Africa in order to secure the nation against attack.
That's right, the Protect America Act, the surveillance bill the administration pushed through Congress last August in a brilliantly executed squeeze play, will expire at midnight. The House should have already folded by now and simply passed the Senate's surveillance bill, complete with retroactive immunity for the telecoms. But the Dems haven't; they're sticking to the bill they passed months ago. What gives?
It might have something to do with the fact that the lapsing of the Protect America Act (PAA) won't substantially affect things at all. The old FISA law will kick back into effect. And authorizations granted under the PAA in the last six months to wiretap entire terrorist groups will stick for an entire year. In the words of House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), "Things will be fine
In a conference call with journalists yesterday, Kenneth L. Wainstein, the head of the Justice Department's national security division, did his best to back up the president's warnings, but, according
to The Washington Post
, all he could come up with was that expiration of the law would require "more paperwork and time." The humanity!
But the Democrats seem callously immune to this new burden. The fear just didn't stick this time around (certainly by no fault of the White House). The House broke for a week's recess yesterday -- and not only did the Dems refuse to pass the Senate's version, but they also had the gall to pass contempt resolutions
against White House officials on the same day.
It was, The New York Times reports
, "the greatest challenge to Mr. Bush on a major national security issue since the Democrats took control of Congress last year."
So now it's down to the nitty gritty. House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) has announced
that he'll be working through the recess to reach a compromise. Presumably the other key players (Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), along with the ranking members on the intelligence and judiciary committees) will be sticking around too. We'll see what they come up with.