As expected, President Bush used today’s press conference to bang that drum on the surveillance bill. It’s “dangerous” that the House Democrats aren’t giving in.
Despite the speedbump of CBS’ Bill Plante asking the unusually blunt question of whether Americans, left with no recourse for challenging the legality of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, should just “suck it up” (Bush disapproved of putting it that way “in public”), Bush recovered to hit all the talking points.
Here’s the video:
As in prior appearances, the omissions and distortions came some fast and furious. “You can’t expect the telecoms to participate if they feel like they’re going to be sued” (of course, they wouldn’t be sued for complying with an unambiguously lawful program); the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program “was legal” (yes, by the Bush/Cheney/Addington view of the Constitution); it’s “important” for the American people to “understand that no renewal of the … the Protect America Act is dangerous for the security of the country” (House Republicans and the administration led an effort to prevent a second extension of the Protect America Act); etc.
A rush transcript is below.
QUESTION: … if you can get the Congress to protect telecom companies from lawsuits then there’s no recourse for Americans who feel that they’ve been caught up in this.
QUESTION: I know it’s unintended to spy on Americans, but in the collection process information about everybody gets swept up and then it gets sorted. So if Americans don’t have any recourse, are you just telling them when it comes to their privacy to suck it up?
BUSH: I wouldn’t put it that way, if I were you — in public. You’ve been around long enough.
Anyway, people who analyze the program fully understand that America’s civil liberties are well protected.
There is a constant check to make sure that our civil liberties of our citizens aren’t — you know, are treated with respect.
BUSH: And that’s what I want, and that’s what most Americans — all Americans want.
Now, let me talk about the phone companies. You cannot expect phone companies to participate if they feel like they’re going to be sued. I mean, it is — these people are responsible for shareholders. They’re private companies.
The government said to those who have alleged to have helped us that it is in our national interests and it’s legal. It’s in our national interest because we want to know who’s calling who from overseas into America. We need to know in order to protect the people.
It was legal. And now all of a sudden plaintiffs attorneys, class-action plaintiffs attorneys, you know — I don’t want to try to get inside their head; I suspect they see, you know, a financial gravy train — are trying to sue these companies. It’s unfair. It is patently unfair.
And, secondly, these lawsuits create doubts amongst those who will — whose help we need.
BUSH: I guess you could be relaxed about all this if you didn’t think there was a true threat to the country. I know there’s a threat to the country. And the American people expect our Congress to give the professionals the tools they need to listen to foreigners who may be calling in to the United States with information that could cause us great harm.
So on the one hand the civil liberties of our citizens are guaranteed by a lot of checks in the system, scrutinized by the United States Congress.
And, secondly, I cannot emphasize to you how important it is that the Congress solve this problem.
The Senate has solved the problem. And people say, “Would you ever compromise on the issue?” The Senate bill is a compromise. And there’s enough votes in the House of Representatives to pass the Senate bill. It’s a bipartisan bill. And the House leaders need to put it on the floor and let the will of the housework.
My judgment happens to be the will of the people, to give the professionals the tools they need to protect the country….
QUESTION: Mr. President, on FISA, do you worry that perhaps some House Democratic leaders are playing a high-stakes game of wait-and- see in terms of if we get attacked, we all lose, if we don’t get attacked, then maybe that makes the case that you don’t need all the powers in FISA?
BUSH: No, I don’t think so.
I mean, I think that’s — that would be ascribing, you know, motives that are just — I just don’t think they’re the motives of the House leaders to do that.
I think — look, I think they’re really wrestling with providing liability protection to phone companies. I don’t think they’re that cynical or devious. That’s — it’s just too risky. A lot of these leaders understand that there’s an enemy that wants to attack.
The caucus, evidently, in the House is — the Democratic caucus, is — you know, is concerned about exactly Plante’s question, you know. And I just can’t tell you how important it is to not alienate or not discourage these phone companies.
BUSH: How can you listen to the enemy if the phone companies aren’t going to participate with you? And they’re not going to participate if they get sued.
Let me rephrase it: less likely to participate.
And they’re facing billions of dollars of lawsuits. And they have a responsibility to their shareholders. And yet they were told what they were going do is legal.
And, anyway, I’m going to keep talking about the issue. This is an important issue for the American people to understand, and it’s important for them to understand that no renewal of the Patriot Act — I mean, the Protect America Act — is dangerous for the security of the country. Just dangerous.
I’m sure people, if they really pay attention to the details of this debate, wonder why it was OK to pass the Protect America Act last summer, late last summer, and all of a sudden it’s not OK to pass it now.
And so I will keep — keep talking about the issue and talking about the issue.