President Bush yesterday accused senators of endangering American lives by filibustering renewal of the USA Patriot Act and railed against the illegal disclosure of a classified eavesdropping operation.
"A minority of senators filibustered to block the renewal of the Patriot Act when it came up for a vote yesterday," Mr. Bush said in a rare live radio address from the Roosevelt Room. "That decision is irresponsible, and it endangers the lives of our citizens.
"The senators who are filibustering must stop their delaying tactics, and the Senate must vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act," he added. "In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment."
Mr. Bush also expressed outrage that someone leaked to the New York Times information about a National Security Agency (NSA) program to eavesdrop on Americans suspected of communicating with al Qaeda operatives overseas.
"The existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations," he said. "As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk."
The president, who spent Friday refusing to confirm or deny the existence of the eavesdropping program, reversed course yesterday by acknowledging it. But he was unapologetic about the program and vowed to continue eavesdropping.
"The activities I authorized are reviewed approximately every 45 days," Mr. Bush said. "I have reauthorized this program more than 30 times since the September the 11th attacks, and I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al Qaeda and related groups."
By railing against the disclosure of the program, Mr. Bush sought to turn the tables on Democrats and journalists who have long criticized the administration for disclosing a CIA analyst's name.
The president rarely makes news in his Saturday radio addresses, which are typically taped in advance, last only a few minutes and amount to restatements of earlier pronouncements. But yesterday, seeking maximum effect, Mr. Bush stood before TV cameras and delivered the address live, speaking for a full seven minutes.
"It is critical to saving American lives," he said of the eavesdropping program. "The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties. And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the president of the United States."
Although some members of Congress professed shock at Friday's New York Times disclosure, Mr. Bush yesterday suggested they knew all along.
"Leaders in Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this authorization and the activities conducted under it," he said.
Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican, said Democrats who are complaining so loudly about the NSA authorization "ought to talk to their own members who have been involved in updates all along."
Others in Congress have questioned whether the president has the authority to authorize such eavesdropping without judicial approval, and key Republicans have promised oversight hearings.
"The president does not get to pick and choose which laws he wants to follow. He is a president, not a king," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Democratic senators said the eavesdropping operation shows why they should take more time to craft a compromise on the Patriot Act, parts of which expire at the end of this year if not reapproved. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said there are "serious questions" about whether the president is evading laws.
But Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said it was "just a crying shame" that some senators were using the eavesdropping revelations to halt the Patriot Act.
While praising the House for passing the Patriot Act, Mr. Bush criticized the Senate for filibustering it on Friday. He pointed out that in the wake of September 11, the Senate passed the measure 98-1.
"The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do -- it has protected American liberty and saved American lives," he said.
"Yet key provisions of this law are set to expire in two weeks. The terrorist treat to our country will not expire in two weeks," Mr. Bush added. "Congress has a responsibility to ensure that law-enforcement and intelligence officials have the tools they need to protect the American people."
Amy Fagan contributed to this report.
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