By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
The House and Senate yesterday approved a 15-day extension of an expiring intelligence surveillance law and the White House backed off a threatened veto, allowing more time to resolve a dispute over the administration's proposal to immunize telephone companies from lawsuits stemming from their cooperation with warrantless wiretaps.
Both chambers passed by unanimous voice votes the temporary extension of the Protect America Act, and members then left town for a one-week break. The White House gave its blessing last night to the short-term measure rather than allowing the surveillance law to expire Friday.
President Bush had insisted that Congress act immediately to approve a new surveillance measure that includes the immunity provision. "We've had ample time for debate. The time to act is now," Bush told Congress in his State of the Union address Monday, the same day he threatened to veto a 30-day extension.
Bush remained mum when asked yesterday if he would sign the House's 15-day extension, but aides released a statement last night indicating that the president will "accommodate this request."
The Senate has not acted yet on a surveillance bill because of two related disputes: one among Democrats over whether to approve the legal immunity, and another between Democrats and Republicans over whether amendments are to be allowed when the proposed measure is brought to the floor for a vote.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who last year shepherded a surveillance bill through the House without immunity provisions, again urged the Senate to resist Bush's lobbying. "Congress must update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by passing a bill that protects both our national security and our civil liberties," she said in a statement.