The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a Democrat-crafted foreign intelligence surveillance law that contains provisions strongly opposed by President Bush. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.
Republicans had hoped that consideration of the bill in a rare secret session would give Democrats the opportunity to vote against their leadership and approve a version of the bill that was supported by President Bush.
But by a vote of 213 to 197, the House approved a version of the legislation that would require more judicial supervision of electronic surveillance. The House measure also does not provide retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies facing lawsuits stemming from their cooperation with the once-secret anti-terrorist eavesdropping program.
The immunity provision was strongly advocated by President Bush, who has threatened to veto the House bill, which still needs to go back to the Senate for approval there.
Republicans had been urging Democrats to vote on a version that was already passed by the Senate with a large bipartisan margin and contained a provision for immunity for telecommunications companies. Republicans say Democratic actions have endangered America's security.
"This is now the 27th day that we have denied our intelligence agencies and law enforcement officials the tools they need to keep us safe," said Adam Putnam, chairman of the House Republican Conference.
While denying retroactive immunity to companies that helped the government in the wake of the September 11, 2001 al-Qaida attacks, the measure would authorize immunity for future cooperation, and provide greater latitude for companies to defend themselves in court.
The Democratic measure also states again that a special court created under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), remains the exclusive authority for electronic surveillance.
Representative Jerrold Nadler was among those rejecting Republican assertions that Americans would be at greater risk under the legislation, arguing that the measure guards against violations of civil liberties:
"While we are giving the intelligence community the tools they need to wiretap on American citizens [or] on people who are not American citizens, we have to make sure that our constitutional rights and liberties are protected so that this country which we have all defended and we all want to defend remains worthy of being defended by defending our own liberties," he said.
President Bush used strong language on Thursday in rejecting the House Democrat's measure before it even passed.
"Their partisan legislation would extend protections we enjoy as Americans to foreign terrorists overseas," he said. "It would cause us to lose vital intelligence on terrorist threats and that is a risk that our country cannot afford to take."
On Friday, House speaker Nancy Pelosi repeated her rejection of the president's arguments.
The president has said that our legislation will not make America safe," she said. "The president is wrong, and I think he knows it.
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell had reiterated objections to the measure, suggesting that if Congress passed it, U.S. counter-terrorist surveillance capabilities would be effectively shut down.
Democrats maintained that authorities under existing law remain in place, with Pelosi saying on Friday that principles suggested by McConnell himself early in the debate over revising U.S. surveillance law are contained in the Democratic measure.
With lawmakers leaving for a two-week recess, and House Democratic leader's refusal to take up the Senate-passed bill, there will be no further action on the matter until lawmakers return to work next month.