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House Passes a Surveillance Bill Not to Bush's Liking

Bush appeared on the White House's South Lawn Thursday to demand House passage of the Senate legislation, warning lawmakers: "The American people understand the stakes in this struggle. They want their children to be safe from terror."

Then the House went off script. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded by all but calling the president a liar.

"We understand our responsibility to protect the American people. What the president is trying to do is something that we think should be stopped," she said. "I am stating a fact. The president is wrong, and he knows it."

Republicans maintain that telecommunications firms must be granted strong, retroactive legal protections to guarantee their ongoing cooperation with intelligence efforts. They say the House legislation would add onerous levels of bureaucracy to wiretapping efforts that require split-second responses.

Democrats counter that they cannot offer immunity without knowing precisely what actions they would be forgiving. By proposing to turn over the issue to the courts, they said they have compromised with the White House. They contend that their legislation would grant Bush all the authority he needs to conduct surveillance.

House Republican leaders tried to increase the political pressure Thursday by demanding that the House go into a rare secret session -- for only the fifth time since 1825 and the first since 1983 -- to hear classified information that they said would bolster their case. After a two-hour security sweep of the House chamber, the session convened at 10 p.m.

But with the chamber about half full, Republicans apparently did not present any information compelling enough to derail the Democrats' legislation. Democrats said very little was discussed that could not have been disclosed in open session.

Republicans said the secret session proved to be deflating, not because of the quality of the evidence, but because of Democrats' unwillingness to listen.


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