Thursday :: Feb 9, 2006

Another GOP Talking Point On NSA Spying Bites The Dust


by Steve

With the revelation late yesterday that the White House has shifted gears and has now decided to provide an expanded briefing to both the House and Senate Intelligence committees on the NSA spying program, Democrats should notice that the issue our trolls said would be a big loser for us, has actually shifted in our favor.

You’ll recall that one of the initial GOP talking points that was inserted into the compliant media was the false notion that it was only Democrats, and only for partisan reasons, who were objecting to Bush’s NSA spying program. It was also suggested repeatedly by Karl Rove, Kenny-boy Mehlman, and others that the only reason Democrats were having concerns about the program was because they were more concerned about civil liberties than they were national security. Well that narrative has flopped now, with House GOP subcommittee chairwoman Heather Wilson of New Mexico and Arlen Specter both deciding that Congress needs to assert itself more into this mess. Wilson, who is facing a well-financed and strong challenger in her reelection bid this fall, came out Tuesday and said she now supports a broader congressional inquiry. Specter now says that he will introduce legislation requiring the FISA court to evaluate Bush’s NSA program.

The truth is that Gonzales’ performance this week so undermined the Administration’s case that even the GOP now wants to insert itself into this issue, which has forced the about-face from the White House leading to expanded briefings in front of the House Intelligence Committee yesterday, and the Senate counterpart today.

Note in today’s Post story about congressional concerns over the NSA program that it is the GOP that is pushing back now against the White House, thereby destroying once and for all the notion that this is only a partisan issue.

Responding to congressional pressure from both parties, the White House agreed yesterday to give lawmakers more information about its domestic surveillance program, although the briefings remain highly classified and limited in scope.
Despite the administration's overture, several prominent Republicans said they will pursue legislation enabling Congress to conduct more aggressive oversight of the National Security Agency's warrantless monitoring of Americans' phone calls and e-mails. Recent disclosure of the four-year-old program has alarmed civil libertarians and divided the GOP, with many Republicans defending the operation and others calling for more information and regulation.

Have divided the GOP?

Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said in a statement: "Today's briefing was a positive first step, and I appreciate the White House's willingness to inform more members on aspects of this vital NSA program. While the briefing did not, and could not, cover the full operational aspects of the program, it will allow for increased committee oversight going forward."

Increased committee oversight going forward?

Yesterday, Wilson stepped away from the hearing to tell reporters: "This is a very positive development. Serious questioning, sharing of information and review of this program began this afternoon. . . . The checks and balances in our system of government are very important, and it's those checks and balances that are going on and being executed now."

Checks and balances?

Despite yesterday's White House comments, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) announced he is drafting a bill that would "require the administration to take the program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court." The secret court was established in 1978 to handle Justice Department requests for warrants to monitor communications of terrorism and espionage suspects.
Several GOP lawmakers have defended the NSA program, saying the administration has given Congress all the information it needs. But some prominent Republicans have joined Specter and Wilson in questioning whether the program complies with the FISA law, and in calling for more information without divulging important secrets.
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said in an interview that the "balance must be preserved between the executive branch and the legislature. And I think this is a clear example of where the balance has gotten skewed. . . . The administration cannot unilaterally assume that they have the answers to get around or go over a law." Hagel sits on the Senate intelligence committee, which is to be privately briefed today by Gonzales and Hayden.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said in an interview, "I think there's a decent shot at crafting legislation to make the FISA court a more workable option" for setting guidelines for the surveillance program. He said he wants "a separate set of eyes involved in this to provide safeguards."

Look, what got the GOP and the White House into pushback mode here, besides the challenge to the imperial presidency, was the suggestion that this would be grounds for impeachment. Now with Gonzales' weak defense of the program this week, even Republicans support oversight and are ready to move away from the rubber stamp they have employed for the last four years. And that is a good development.

Steve :: 9:32 AM :: Comments (36) :: TrackBack (0) :: Digg It!