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Bush, Democrats spar over telecom immunity provisions in surveillance bill

[JURIST] US President George W. Bush Monday reiterated his support [transcript] for a surveillance bill that grants immunity for telecommunications companies [JURIST report] from lawsuits related to their participation in the NSA warrantless surveillance program [JURIST news archive]. During a meeting with the National Governors' Association, Bush urged the House of Representatives to allow the measure to go to the floor "for a vote, up or down," adding:

We share a responsibility to protect our country. I get briefed every morning about threats we face, and they're real. And therefore the question is, what do you do about them? In my judgment, we have got to give the professionals who work hard to protect us all the tools they need. To put it bluntly, if the enemy is calling to America, we really need to know what they're saying. And we need to know what they're thinking. And we need to know who they're talking to.
The Senate passed [JURIST report] the FISA Amendments Act [S 2248 materials] on February 13, but the House did not approve the bill before leaving for a 12-day recess. The version approved by the Senate provides immunity for telecommunications companies, while the House version [HR 3773 materials] of the legislation, approved [JURIST report] in November, does not include the immunity provisions. Last week, Bush urged [JURIST report] Congress to extend the temporary Protect America Act [S 1927 materials; JURIST report], which expired on February 16 without an agreement in Congress on replacement legislation, and said he could foresee "no compromise" with Congressional Democrats on the issue of telecom immunity.

Meanwhile, four democratic lawmakers - US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) [official websites] - authored an op-ed piece [text] published in Monday's Washington Post, in which they criticized Bush's use of "scare tactics and political games" to push for passage of his favored legislation. They wrote:
We are already working to reconcile the House and Senate bills and hope that our Republican colleagues will join us in the coming weeks to craft final, bipartisan legislation. A key objective of our effort is to build support for a law that gives our intelligence professionals not only the tools they need but also confidence that the legislation they will be implementing has the broad support of Congress and the American public.

If the president thinks he can use this as a wedge issue to divide Democrats, he is wrong. We are united in our determination to produce responsible legislation that will protect America and protect our Constitution.
AP has more.

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