Cheney Says NSA Spying Should Be an Election Issue

By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

Vice President Cheney suggested last night that the debate over spying on overseas communications to or from terrorism suspects should be a political issue in this year's congressional elections.

Speaking to Republicans gathered for the annual CPAC convention, Cheney said the debate over the National Security Agency surveillance program "has clarified where all stand" on an issue that has drawn criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.

"And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security, and how we propose to defend the nation that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love and are privileged to serve," Cheney said.

His comments reflected the emerging GOP plan to make national security and terrorism the centerpiece of House and Senate elections. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove telegraphed the strategy last month when he told a Republican audience that "we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security."

Cheney's comments were the closest a top White House official has come to calling for the NSA program to be a political matter.

Democrats have criticized the White House for politicizing national security issues such as the USA Patriot Act and NSA surveillance.

Its unclear whether the GOP strategy will work, however.

In a new Associated Press poll, about half of those surveyed favored the wiretap program. In the same poll last month, 56 percent opposed it. White House officials privately argue that President Bush's greatest political strength is the same one that helped Republicans in the last two elections: fighting terrorism.

In recent weeks, Bush has shifted his public focus away from Iraq and trained it on winning public support for the program. Some Democrats argue that Bush is breaking the law by spying on people in the United States without a warrant and without congressional or judicial oversight. Bush contends that the Constitution and the 2001 congressional war resolution give him the authority to take such steps to track down terrorism suspects.

"Some in Washington are yielding to the temptation to downplay the threat and to back away from the business at hand," Cheney said. "That mind-set may be comforting, but it is dangerous."

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