Who's Afraid of George W. Bush?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; 1:34 PM

We won't have President Bush to kick around anymore in about 18 months. But until then, Bush has someone he can still kick around: the Democratic Congress. At least when it comes to terror issues.

Despite his 65 percent job-disapproval rating, Bush was able to cow congressional Democrats over the weekend into granting him unprecedented authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

Now, having beaten the Democrats into submission with the threat of looking weak on terror, a re-emboldened White House is aiming at the media, hoping to bully journalists into making the new law sound innocuous.

The 'Protect America' Act

Here's the bill in question; a White House " fact sheet," and Bush's remarks upon signing it into law on Sunday. Here's are the roll call votes in the House and Senate.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "Until last weekend, President Bush had repeatedly fallen short in seven months of battles with a Democratic-led Congress that would not give him what he wanted on immigration or education, health care or energy policy.

"But the Congressional vote that authorized eavesdropping without warrants on international communications, including those involving Americans within the United States, has shown that there is at least one arena in which Mr. Bush can still hold the line: terrorism. . . .

"For a president who has played defense most of the year, relying on veto threats and, in terms of Iraq, almost plaintive pleas for time, it was a rare, winning use of offense. The victory points up an enduring challenge for Democrats, even as they have gained other advantages over Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans. . . .

In interviews, Democratic leaders and their aides acknowledged being outmaneuvered by the White House, which they accused of negotiating in bad faith, and portrayed the bill as a runaway train. . . .

"Everybody was afraid they might be branded as soft on terrorism,' Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a Democratic presidential candidate, said Monday while speaking to Iowa voters."

James Risen writes in Monday's New York Times: "President Bush signed into law on Sunday legislation that broadly expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages of American citizens without warrants.

"Congressional aides and others familiar with the details of the law said that its impact went far beyond the small fixes that administration officials had said were needed to gather information about foreign terrorists. They said seemingly subtle changes in legislative language would sharply alter the legal limits on the government's ability to monitor millions of phone calls and e-mail messages going in and out of the United States.

"They also said that the new law for the first time provided a legal framework for much of the surveillance without warrants that was being conducted in secret by the National Security Agency and outside the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that is supposed to regulate the way the government can listen to the private communications of American citizens. . . .

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