- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2006

President Bush yesterday said the courts are threatening his wiretapping program and called on Congress to pass a law to put the program on sounder footing, but one hour later Senate Democrats blocked an effort to do just that.

Mr. Bush, speaking in Atlanta as part of a series of war-on-terror speeches, said his administration has made substantial progress in correcting the mistakes that allowed the September 11 terrorist attacks to happen. Delivering a five-year anniversary report card, the president said the nation boosted domestic security and disrupted terrorist plots through better intelligence and military action abroad.

“We’ve learned the lessons of September the 11th. We’re changing how people can work together. We’re modernizing the system. We’re working to connect the dots to stop the terrorists from hurting America again,” Mr. Bush said.

But the president said a federal court in Michigan has jeopardized a key tool, the terrorist surveillance program, which allows the government to listen to phone calls between the U.S. and overseas without a warrant. Mr. Bush said he expects the ruling to be overturned, but wants action from Congress to protect the program.

“A series of protracted legal challenges would put a heavy burden on this critical and vital program,” the president said. “The surest way to keep the program is to get explicit approval from the United States Congress.”

But during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, Democrats blocked consideration of such a bill. Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, likened the bill to a “rubber stamp” by authorizing almost everything the administration requested.

“The president has basically said: I’ll agree to let a court decide if I’m breaking the law if you pass a law first that says I’m not breaking the law,” Mr. Feingold said.

Democrats then invoked a parliamentary rule forcing the committee to disband for the day and blocking further action on the bill.

Chairman Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who has said publicly the program should be more closely monitored by Congress and the courts, accused Democrats on his committee of filibustering the bill.

“We have seen the incipient stage of filibuster by amendment,” he said during one pointed exchange. “Filibuster by speech, filibuster by amendment. Obstructionism.”

Republicans seized on the obstruction, noting that it came just an hour after Democratic leaders vowed that “Democrats want to do everything we can to defeat the terrorists by improving our monitoring of terrorists and finally bringing those in custody to justice.”

“It’s little wonder that Democrats have a serious credibility gap with the American people on the issue of national security when they continue to obstruct national security legislation that is critical to fighting the war on terror,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee.

In his five-year review yesterday, Mr. Bush dissected the September 11 plot into four phases: the overseas planning by al Qaeda leaders; insertion of the first two hijackers into the U.S.; deploying the rest of the 19 hijackers, and having some of them train to fly airplanes; and carrying out the attack.

The president said actions have been taken to close the exploited security gaps.

The White House released a report listing more than 100 specific steps ranging from improved visa verification to cracking down on terrorist finances to fighting the war in Iraq.

Mr. Bush also called on Congress to pass a bill authorizing trial by military commission of terrorist detainees. He said that is all that stands between the mastermind of the September 11 attacks and a trial.

“The sooner the Congress authorizes the military commissions I have called for, the sooner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will receive the justice he deserves,” he said.

By calling for Congress to authorize military tribunals and the wiretapping program, Mr. Bush has dumped two hot potatoes right into lawmakers’ laps with midterm elections less than two months away.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Mr. Bush is just trying to scare voters.

“Roosevelt said, ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ President Bush — to the contrary — says to each of us, ‘Be afraid,’ and then does nothing to make us safer,” he said.

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report from Atlanta.

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