WASHINGTON, AP -Congress has been resisting some of President Bush’s strategies in the war on terror — particularly, a permanent renewal of the USA Patriot Act — and he is not happy about it.
“The enemy has not gone away. They’re still there. And I expect Congress to understand that we’re still at war, and they got to give us the tools necessary to win this war,” the president said Tuesday.
Bush’s views were likely to be well received Wednesday at the Pentagon, where Defense Department officials were briefing him on their progress in Iraq and on other fronts.
During a White House meeting with federal prosecutors Tuesday, Bush said lawmakers must act on a permanent renewal of the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers. Noting that the Patriot Act was approved overwhelmingly not long after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, he said political considerations now were getting in the way.
“When it came time to renew the act, for partisan reasons, in my mind, people have not stepped up” to renew the act, the president said.
Many key provisions of the law were to expire Dec. 31. Amid a debate over whether the act sufficiently protects civil liberties, most Senate Democrats and a few Republicans united against legislation that would have made several of the expiring provisions permanent while extending others for four years.
In a move the White House adamantly opposed but later accepted, Congress approved a one-month extension of the law in its current form to allow the contentious debate to continue, which will take place when Congress reassembles later this month. The new measure expires Feb. 3.
Later, outside the West Wing, prosecutors cited several cases in which the Patriot Act had played a crucial role, from staging an undercover sting on California weapons dealers attempting to sell Stinger missiles to securing convictions of major terrorist financiers in New York.
“We use it each and every day to protect our country against terrorists and criminals,” said Ken Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
“We believe this provides adequate safeguards in every respect,” said Mary Beth Buchanan, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
Sen. Russ Feingold (news, bio, voting record), D-Wis., said Bush should spend more time negotiating about the Patriot Act with Democrats and others on Capitol Hill and less on “staged meetings with hand-picked participants” at the White House.
“Contrary to the president’s misleading comments, nobody wants to see the Patriot Act expire,” Feingold said Tuesday. “We want commonsense changes to the act that would give the government the power to combat terrorism while protecting the rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens.”
Among the provisions the renewal would make permanent are those that allow roving wiretaps so that investigators can listen in on any telephone and tap any computer they think a terrorist might use.
The debate over the Patriot Act has been intensified by Bush’s acknowledgment that after the 9/11 attacks he authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.