August 5th, 2007
07:59 AM ET
12 years ago

House approves terror surveillance bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The House approved the GOP version of the FISA bill Saturday night by a vote of 227-183, with most Republicans and conservative Democrats supporting the measure.

The White-House backed legislation closes what the Bush administration has called critical gaps in U.S. intelligence capability.

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.

The Senate approved the Republican-sponsored bill Friday night. Immediately after that vote, a Democratic-sponsored bill failed to reach the 60-vote majority.

Saturday night's vote followed fireworks in the House, where an angry group of Republicans accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of delaying a vote on the bill, the president's legislative priority.

"Last night, the Senate passed this bill at about 9:30. Now it's almost 1 o'clock. We should have had the FISA (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) bill on the floor the first thing this morning," Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan told reporters in the early afternoon.

"We could have passed a rule and passed this bill by 11 o'clock this morning, and it could have been on its way, and the president could have signed it," said Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

House Democrats rearranged the schedule so the FISA bill could be considered ahead of a measure dealing with Defense Department funding.

The House on Friday night rejected a Democratic version of the bill.

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

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

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.

Filed under: House
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Eyckie, Toronto, Ontario

    Congress has lost it's mind obviously. I can't believe they just keep catering to this insane administration. They will find out I'm sure in the next election, just what the American people think of their toothless approach to Bush. What a spineless bunch of politicians that say they are going to call this administration to task for their corruption. I wonder how much money the dems got for doing that!

    August 5, 2007 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  2. Jeff C, San Francisco

    Just unbelievable that Congress would write Cheney Gonzales & Bush ANOTHER blank check when they've bounced so many already, and their credibility account is overdrawn. This law says "Just go ahead, ignore Congress and the Constitution, do whatever you want – we know you will anyway."

    August 5, 2007 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  3. Mark, Lincoln, NE

    SHAME on democrats!

    Thursday night the republicans walk out of session shouting "shame" and "fraud". If the democrats had any backbone like they were voted to have in November, they would have walked out of Saturday's session shouting "Shame" and "fraud" at the republicans for railroading the Constitution and rubberstamping the power hungry Attorney General!

    August 5, 2007 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  4. Pixie, Murfreesboro, TN

    /sigh, just what the executive branch needs. More power. I mean, they've been so transparent and open with us so far, so why not? /eye roll

    This is a very sad day when Democrats can be cowed by a president with Nixonian approval levels into selling out the soul of this country.

    August 5, 2007 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  5. Charles, MA

    It's pathetic that the men and women of congress are so dedicated to taking a vacation that they cannot stop to protect our right to privacy.

    No one else in this country gets a month-long vacation unless they are a student, teacher, or pregnant. And no one gets to take off one week per month, either. We are paying these people to sit by the beach and get a sun-tan.

    August 5, 2007 11:58 pm at 11:58 pm |
  6. Ali A. Akbar, Fort Worth, Texas

    I love it when the spineless Democrats give in. The worst rated Congress in the history of the United States. The Do-Nothings.

    August 6, 2007 01:44 am at 1:44 am |
  7. LeftyLosey

    Security is a bumper sticker issue for Democrats. Something to use to bash Bush, even though his policies have stopped numerous attempts at attacks on us since 9/11. So here's to the demorats, from my families safety to yours..., thanks for nothing.

    August 6, 2007 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  8. Marty Outlaw, Greensboro, NC

    With the democrats ensuring the passage of this expanded surveillance bill, they will no longer receive any monetary support from me!! This is sheer political cowardice. Now, the abuse of our constitutional rights by the republicans can be equally shared with democrats. It was a chance to take a real high road and they didn't have the guts to vote it. Shame!

    August 13, 2007 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |