President Bush on House FISA Bill

By March 13, 2008Briefly Legal, Communications

From comments this morning on the South Lawn of the White House, reacting to the House legislation that proposes a new, complicated

First, the House bill could reopen dangerous intelligence gaps by putting in place a cumbersome court approval process that would make it harder to collect intelligence on foreign terrorists. This is an approach that Congress explicitly rejected last August when bipartisan majorities in both houses passed the Protect America Act. And it is an approach the Senate rejected last month when it passed a new — new legislation to extend and strengthen the Protect America Act by an overwhelming vote of 68 to 29.

Now House leaders are proposing to undermine this consensus. Their partisan legislation would extend protections we enjoy as Americans to foreign terrorists overseas. It would cause us to lose vital intelligence on terrorist threats, and it is a risk that our country cannot afford to take.

Second, the House bill fails to provide liability protection to companies believed to have assisted in protecting our nation after the 9/11 attacks. Instead, the House bill would make matters even worse by allowing litigation to continue for years. In fact, House leaders simply adopted the position that class action trial lawyers are taking in the multi-billion-dollar lawsuits they have filed. This litigation would undermine the private sector’s willingness to cooperate with the intelligence community, cooperation that is absolutely essential to protecting our country from harm. This litigation would require the disclosure of state secrets that could lead to the public release of highly classified information that our enemies could use against us. And this litigation would be unfair, because any companies that assisted us after 9/11 were assured by our government that their cooperation was legal and necessary.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer issued a statement in response, saying the President misread the bill.

In fact, this bill is the product of weeks of negotiations – negotiations which the White House and Congressional Republicans refused to engage in – and it marries the best of the House and Senate-passed FISA bills.

OK, without the participation of the executive branch and advocates of telecom immunity, then whom were the negotiations between? John Conyers and Silvestre Reyes? The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation? The trial lawyers and Daily Kos?

UPDATE (2:05 p.m.): House Republicans pitch a closed-door session. Seemed like a stunt when liberals Democrats were calling for the same thing last month.

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