- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Senate last night bowed to President Bush in passing a temporary revision to rules on eavesdropping on foreign terrorists, ending a daylong standoff in which Democrats blocked the bill over distrust of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans defeated House Democrats’ version of the bill in a 218-207 vote. The Bush administration opposed the measure for not doing enough to fix gaps in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The votes in both chambers came hours after Mr. Bush vowed to veto the House bill and stressed the importance of getting the Senate bill done before Congress adjourns for its August recess, which officially begins Monday.

A House vote on the Senate bill, which passed 60-28, could come today.

White House officials welcomed the Senate vote and urged the House to follow suit.

“We appreciate the U.S. Senate for passing critical legislation … that will give our intelligence professionals the essential tools they need to protect our nation,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “It is urgent that this legislation become law as quickly as possible, so we encourage the House … to swiftly consider and pass this bill before departing for recess.”

Democrats had wanted to limit the role of Mr. Gonzales, who is maligned for inconsistent testimony before Congress about the firing of U.S. attorneys, in authorizing foreign wiretaps without approval from the special FISA courts.

“To say that Alberto Gonzales is not well thought of in the Democratic Caucus is an understatement,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said as the bill stalled in the afternoon.

“We have a low level of trust for him, an extremely low [opinion] of his competence, and so that’s being taken into consideration as we move forward on our legislation.”

U.S. intelligence officials pleaded with Congress for months to modernize the 1978 law. They say outdated rules prevent eavesdropping on foreign terrorists and stop phone companies from aiding surveillance for fear of privacy-rights lawsuits.

Congress was only tackling the most pressing deficiencies in the law and would take up a more comprehensive bill later. The current legislation would serve as a temporary fix and expire in six months.

“But the important thing is that we move now, before we leave for vacation, to make sure that the United States intelligence agency is not deaf for the entire month of August when the threat may be gaining significant grounds,” said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican and vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence.

Mr. Bond and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, wrote bill that passed and was based strictly upon the recommendations of Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell.

The minority leader commended Democrats for putting partisanship aside to confront the terrorist threat.

“We’ve seen that we can accomplish a good thing by working together and doing things Americans like,” Mr. McConnell said after the vote.

The intelligence director had lobbied against the House Democrats’ bill because it still required FISA court approval to wiretap foreign targets calling the United States.

Democrats said foreign-to-foreign calls through U.S. telecommunications systems are exempt. FISA-court authorization only would be needed when foreign targets call people in the U.S., protecting privacy rights in this country.