August 4th, 2007
08:49 AM ET
12 years ago

Senate passes GOP eavesdropping bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate Friday approved a Republican-sponsored bill backed by the White House to close what the administration has called critical gaps in U.S. intelligence capability.

The bill passed 60-28, garnering the 60-vote majority it needed to pass. Immediately after that vote, a Democratic-sponsored bill failed to reach the 60-vote majority.

President Bush on Saturday said he was pleased that the Senate passed the measure.

"Last night, the United States Senate passed legislation to give our intelligence professionals the legal tools and authority they need to keep America safe," he said in a statement.

"I appreciate the hard work they did to find common ground to pass this critical bill. Today, the House of Representatives has an opportunity to consider that bill, pass it and send it to me for my signature. Protecting America is our most solemn obligation and I urge the House to pass this bill without delay."

The votes followed one in the House, where lawmakers failed to approve a Democratic-sponsored bill that administration officials said they could not support. The 218-207 vote was short of the two-thirds majority it needed to pass.

The Senate bill is expected to go to the House Saturday, where some Democratic sources said it is likely to pass.

"By passing a FISA modernization bill that the president can sign before we go home for recess, the Senate has taken immediate and decisive action to improve the security of our country," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "The DNI requested Congressional action on this in April because it is an issue of homeland security. I trust the House will not adjourn before passing this critical legislation on to the president for his signature."

"In a time of a heightened threat, the Senate did the right thing and acted to give our law enforcement the tools they need to combat terrorism," said Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo, who co-sponsored the bill with McConnell. "It is now up to the House to act. It is critical to our national security - to keep our country safe - that we update this 30-year old law before we leave for August recess."

Lawmakers have been scrambling to pass a bill acceptable to the White House before they leave for a month-long summer recess. President Bush had threatened to veto any bill that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said did not meet his needs.

McConnell had signaled his disapproval of both Democratic-sponsored measures.

The rush to pass a bill altering the 1978 Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act was sparked earlier this year by a secret FISA court ruling that the current law requires a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign-to-foreign communications because so many overseas calls and e-mails are sent through U.S. switching centers, U.S. officials said.

FISA allows officials to apply to a secret FISA court for a warrant to monitor communications involving U.S. citizens. Prior to this year's court ruling, officials believed they didn't need a warrant for foreign-to-foreign communications.

Democrats objected to provisions in the GOP bill that grant the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the authority to approve all wiretaps, even if one party is in the United States, with minimal court oversight. The Democratic bills required the FISA court to oversee the process.

The administration initially proposed to give the authority only to the attorney general but agreed to add the director of national intelligence after Democrats objected to putting more power in the hands of embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Despite the push from the Democratic leadership for their bill, several Democrats said during debate that they would vote in favor of both measures.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said after the votes that the Democrats' bill was "tough on terrorists, provided much-needed oversight of the attorney general and did not infringe on the rights of American citizens."

"Rather than pass this bill, my Republican colleagues chose to rubber-stamp a flawed administration proposal that fails to provide the accountability needed in light of the administration's repeated past mismanagement of key tools in the war on terror," he said.

All the bills are temporary fixes - the Democratic bill would have expired in four months, while the GOP bill gives lawmakers six months to overhaul the 30-year-old law.

"This bill will sunset in six months," Reid said. "Over the course of the fall, I expect the Senate to work diligently on more permanent legislation that will better serve American national security interests and the American people."

Earlier Friday, Democrats said they thought they had reached an agreement with McConnell on the bill and accused the White House of quashing his support.

"That legislation will honor principles the director of national intelligence put forth to us," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. "We respected the wishes that he had in the legislation. It was our understanding that he would support such legislation. There has been a departure from that."

"He told us what he wanted, we gave it to him," Reid said. "And now it appears that others have become involved, because he now wants more than he told us he wanted."

Reid said he had "lost a little confidence" in McConnell's independence. Asked what he believed happened to change the director's mind, Reid said, "I assume that he's gotten some calls from the White House and the vice president's office."

Other Democrats used the House floor to charge interference from the White House. The White House, however, vigorously denied having anything to do with McConnell's position on the Democratic legislation.

"This afternoon on the House floor, Rep. Alcee Hastings asserted that last night the Director of National Intelligence had accepted a House Democratic proposal on FISA modernization but the White House made him turn it down," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "That is flatly untrue.

"The DNI reviewed the legislation himself and determined that it would not provide the tools he needs to protect the country, and therefore he would not be able to look the president in the eye and say that the legislation should be signed. The administration is working in good faith with the Congress to get this critical national security legislation passed before they depart for the rest of August."

Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, also denied the Democrats' charges.

"The Office of the DNI received the bill at 2:30 pm today, not very long at all before it was discussed on the floor (perhaps an hour or so)," his office said in a statement. "The DNI personally reviewed the bill and determined it was not acceptable. The White House did not order him to do anything."

A Democratic congressional source, however, told CNN that the Democratic leadership had agreed to three items McConnell said he wanted in the bill, but that when the director called back two hours later, he had a completely new draft with many changes.

The source said McConnell indicated he was under tremendous pressure.

"The White House was squashing him like a bug," the source said.

Filed under: Senate
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. TJ Murfreesboro, TN

    It's very dissappointing that Congress would side with the White House over this. When did the Executive Branch of Government start telling Congress what policies they can and can't make?

    August 4, 2007 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  2. Mark, Lincoln, NE

    I never realized that the November 2006 elections showed that the people wanted to continue the Rubberstamp Congress.

    The Democrats have no backbone. The President, Vice-President, Attorney General, and Director of National Intelligence have all refused to go before Congress and explain why existing FISA conditions don't work. FISA already allows for 3 days of warrentless wiretapping before a court order must be given for the wiretaps to continue.

    The executive branch stonewalls any attempt to learn about the TSP, and the Democrats vote for this proposal anyway.

    The executive branch had no need to illegally break FISA, and now they want to rewrite the law so that if a company breaks the law and illegally turns privacy information over they won't be held accountable. Who does the executive branch believe should be the ultimate authority? Oh of course Gonzo, the man with no credibility.

    August 4, 2007 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  3. erika morgan black dimond wa

    ALL I CAN SAY IS SHAME ON THE DEMOCRATS, YOU HAVE SOLD OUT TO THE FEAR-MONGERING AGAIN, YOUR EXCUSE FOR THE LAST SIX YEARS HAS BEEN PROVEN TO BE EMPTY, YOU HAVE YOUR MANDATE AND CONTROL NOW BUT YOU STILL RESPOND WITH A RUBBER STAMP FOR YOUR KING GEORGE. You think we are all on vacation and will not notice? WRONG! I really can't understand how you can go home and stand with your constituents, smiling and bobbing. There has to be some reason you respond like ninny school children in the face of the feudal orders coming from on high, you guys are dead already, WELL WE ARE NOT DEAD WE STILL VOTE.

    August 4, 2007 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  4. MCD, San Francisco, CA

    Very Sad! The politicians of BOTH parties have completely sold out We The People. And, in the process they have further weakened the Congress. Why would they do that? This was a perfect opportunity to take a stand and hold firm. This was a stand the People would have been fully behind.

    August 4, 2007 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  5. Rick, Pickens, SC

    I am ashamed of the democrats for caving in again. We have lost the sanity of reason, we clearly have a dictator and war monger in the White House, they answer to no one, they have no accountability or competence and what does the democrats do give them another rubber stamp to steal our privacy without accountability. Our nation and the constitutional rights are being stolen and we are powerless to stop it. Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves, but as Bush says 'its just a stupid piece of paper'. Why does the media whitewash this over, why are Americans not taking to the streets in protest, we ask where is the democrats backbone, where is ours?

    August 4, 2007 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  6. Martin, Rochester, MN

    I didn't vote for a democrat in 2006 just to have them keep rubberstamping the president. This is just sad.

    August 4, 2007 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |


    August 4, 2007 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  8. John

    I can't believe this unconstitutional bill has passed. To get rid of the status quo, and the deterorating world of the United States vote for Ron Paul!

    August 4, 2007 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  9. Tom, Quincy, Mass

    I hope this bill saves lives, even those of you with your pre-911 mindsets still intact.

    I applaud both sides of the aisle in getting this passed.

    August 4, 2007 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  10. Mrs. America

    Hasn't anybody figured out yet that Bush needed this passed NOW because a federal judge just came down on him (again) for continuing illegal activities? Bush was covering his own butt, and our fine leaders didn't want to work into their vacation time. The Democratic congress is an extreme disappointment. At this rate, might as well have kept the Reps in. No difference.

    August 4, 2007 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  11. Ron Nebraska

    Why does it matter if congress passes the bill or not? Bush/Cheney/Rove will do what ever they want anyway!

    August 4, 2007 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  12. Rex, Toledo, Ohio

    I believe that the Dems were voted in for a "change". I'm sure impeachment was high on the list of many voters. And here we are, stuck with another display of cowardice and laziness.
    And yet, they still want to vote for HRC for "change". What a joke. I take that back, it's no joking matter. These politicians are hellbent on the destruction of the Constitution.

    August 5, 2007 12:02 am at 12:02 am |
  13. Teh pwner, Chicago

    How can you liberals object to a bill that would help our government keep a tab on FOREIGN TERRORISTS by avoiding the bureaucratic hoops. Oh, the foreign terrorists, their rights are being stripped by the fascist Bush administration!!! Are you really this thick?

    August 5, 2007 05:07 am at 5:07 am |
  14. Ali A. Akbar, Fort Worth, Texas

    It's called Terrorism Protection.

    August 6, 2007 01:46 am at 1:46 am |
  15. PETER C. GERDINE, tROY, ny

    Let's target the Democrats who rolled over on this one & organize opposition to them in the next election.
    The weak-kneed, do-anything-to-please Joe Liebermann spirit is alive & well on that side of the aisle!

    August 6, 2007 04:30 pm at 4:30 pm |
  16. Mike, HI

    Lawmakers have been scrambling to pass a bill acceptable to the White House before they leave for a month-long summer recess.

    Whew, good to know that Congress is working for the White House's approval! It's not like they are there to represent the people or anything.

    This country is getting scarier by the day. With some more inflation, I think I'll have a good idea what it was like living in 1930s Germany.

    August 7, 2007 06:31 am at 6:31 am |
  17. James, Phoenix AZ

    Al Queada, OBL, and terrorists across the globe ALL agree with the paranoid spineless whiners of this country angry about this legislation.

    How DARE Congress take steps to put teeth into a program designed to infiltrate the communications of terrorists! No – we should REASON with terrorists, talk it out, reach out to them and accept our blame for all the horrible things we did to deserve what we got... right???

    Thank God we have LEADERS in Washington that understand the real threat of terrorism and are taking steps to protect our country.

    August 7, 2007 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  18. Bush 08, SanFrancisco Cal

    I guess the Dems finally figured out that Bush was right.

    August 8, 2007 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  19. Jerome Starkey, Florida

    I'm all for the Bill. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear!

    August 10, 2007 09:13 am at 9:13 am |