President Bush says some opposition Democrats are playing politics with U.S. national security by delaying the long-term extension of controversial anti-terrorism laws. Opponents say the expanded police powers threaten civil liberties.
President Bush says he will spend the next 30 days trying to convince Congress and the American people that the nation needs a permanent extension of the anti-terrorism laws known as the Patriot Act.
"The American people expect to be protected, and the Patriot Act is a really important tool for them to stay protected," the president said.
First passed following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, those broader police powers were due to expire at the end of 2005. Congress gave the president just a one-month extension through February 3 amidst concerns from Democrats and some Republicans that parts of the Patriot Act threaten civil liberties.
The laws give investigators broader powers to seize library and medical records as well as to conduct roving wiretaps. Opponents are also concerned about what they say is limited Congressional and judicial oversight.
President Bush says there is plenty of oversight in the Patriot Act. He says critics are putting partisan politics ahead of national security.
"There's oversight on this important program," he said. "And now when it came time to renew the act, for partisan reasons in my mind, people have not stepped up and have agreed that it is still necessary to protect the country. The enemy has not gone away. They are still there. And I expect Congress to understand that we are still at war, and they have got to give us the tools necessary to win this war."
This will be the president's first legislative challenge of the new year and comes at a time of new questions about expanding executive power following the president's admission that he authorized the surveillance of telephone calls without a court warrant.
President Bush says those intercepts are strictly limited to communications where one of the parties is outside the United States, and then only to people with known links to terrorist groups.
He says media reports that uncovered the operation have helped America's enemies by revealing U.S. intelligence techniques. The Justice Department is investigating how reporters learned of the program.
Congress will investigate the intercepts themselves and whether the president exceeded his power by authorizing them without a court order.