The House Strikes Back

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, February 15, 2008; 2:02 PM

After years of going belly-up before President Bush, particularly on matters of national security, Democrats in one chamber of Congress yesterday apparently decided they'd had about enough.

Defiantly rejecting what they called Bush's fear mongering, House Democrats refused to vote on a broad surveillance law their Senate colleagues had sent them the day before.

And, for good measure, they voted to hold Bush's chief of staff and former counsel in contempt.

The FISA Rebellion

Carl Hulse writes in the New York Times: "The House broke for a week's recess Thursday without renewing terrorist surveillance authority demanded by President Bush, leading him to warn of risky intelligence gaps while Democrats accused him of reckless fear mongering. . . .

"The decision by the House Democratic leadership to let the law lapse is the greatest challenge to Mr. Bush on a major national security issue since the Democrats took control of Congress last year.

"Last summer, Democrats allowed the surveillance law to be put in place for six months although many of them opposed it. They have also relented in fights over spending on the Iraq war under White House pressure. But with Mr. Bush rated low in public opinion polls as he enters the last months of his presidency, Democrats are showing more willingness to challenge him."

Dan Eggen and Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post: "The episode was a rare uprising by Democrats against the White House on a terrorism issue, and it inspired caterwauling on both sides about the dire ramifications of the standoff.

"Republicans said Democrats were putting the nation at risk, while President Bush offered to delay his scheduled departure for Africa today to reach a deal. Democrats responded with charges of administration recklessness and fearmongering. . . .

"Without the law, administration officials said yesterday in interviews and statements, the monitoring of terrorist groups overseas will be severely hampered. Telecom firms may also become reluctant to help the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies conduct surveillance, officials said."

Indeed, at the White House yesterday, Bush warned that if the House didn't act, "our ability to find out who the terrorists are talking to, what they are saying, and what they are planning will be compromised."

But Eggen and Abramowitz write: "Democrats immediately said that the expiration of the temporary law would have little, if any, immediate impact on intelligence gathering. 'He has nothing to offer but fear,' House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters after Bush's address. . . .

"The acrimony reflects the long-simmering anger among some Democratic lawmakers and their liberal allies over their inability to thwart Bush on Iraq policy and terrorism issues since the Democrats took control of Congress last year after the 2006 elections. It also indicates a new willingness to risk election-year attacks by Republicans who say that Democrats are unfit to protect the country. . . .

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