- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

President Bush today issued his first veto threat against the most recent House version of a bill that would permanently update foreign surveillance laws, saying the measure would compromise U.S. national security.

Mr. Bush, speaking to reporters on the south lawn of the White House, faulted House Democratic leaders for not meeting a self-imposed deadline to pass the bill and criticized a portion of the law that would investigate intelligence activities.

“It seems that House leaders are more interested in investigating our intelligence professionals than in giving them the tools they need to protect us,” Mr. Bush said.

“Congress should stop playing politics with the past and focus on helping us prevent terrorist attacks in the future,” he said.

The House is expected to vote on the bill today, but Mr. Bush urged them to retool the bill and pass a bill he will sign before the leave for recess over the Easter break.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, one of 29 senators to vote against the bill when it passed out of the Senate last month, shot back that the president was trying “bully the Congress and mislead the American people.”

“The president wants Congress to pretend that his administration did not conduct a massive, illegal, domestic warrantless surveillance program that was one of the most outrageous abuses of executive power in our nation”s history,” said the Massachusetts Democrat.

“Rather than accuse Congress of playing politics, the president should stop playing politics with our national security,” Mr. Kennedy said. “He is the one who has repeatedly blocked extension of the law, insisting that the phone companies must be protected, even though he claims that American lives are at risk.”

This is the third version of a bill to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The Bush administration wants to remove due process rights for surveillance targets overseas, and to provide permanent and total immunity for telecom companies that cooperated with the government in the past.

The Senate acquiesced last month to these demands, passing it by a vote of 68 to 29, but the House refused to pass the bill.

House Democratic leaders continue to insist that telecom companies face lawsuits, that intelligence activities be probed, and according to Mr. Bush, that surveillance on targets outside the U.S. be subject to the same judicial review that protects Americans.

Mr. Bush said the bill “would cause us to lose vital intelligence on terrorist threats, and it is a risk that our country cannot afford to take.”

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