It isn’t only Diana West who makes Friday my favorite day for op-eds. Charles Krauthammer also delivers on Friday and so, in his own way, does E.J. Dionne. Today, Dionne claims that the Bush administration has finally been “forced out of its own pre-Sept. 11 world-view.” What’s the occasion for Dionne’s triumphalism? The administration has agreed to brief all members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees about about the NSA surveillance program, instead of just the committee leaders as it has done in the past.
I guess Dionne needs to take his victories where he can claim to find them, but there isn’t much in this one. As I understand it, the administration’s reason for not briefing members other than House and Senate leaders in the past was its desire to avoid leaks. Once the New York Times broke its story, that reason had far less force.
On the important principles relating to the NSA program, however, the White House has held firm. It continues to assert that the program is authorized by the congressional authorization of force (AUMF) and that, even absent this authorization, the president would have the inherent authority to ignore FISA to the extent necessary to fulfill his duties as commander-in-chief. The latter assertion is consistent with the positions taken by all recent administrations. And both assertions have major implications for future power struggles between the two branches.
Nonetheless, Dionne sees bipartisan signs that Congress now is willing to stand up to the administration and demand a broader role in issues relating to the war on terror. Actually, it’s never hard to find legislators who say they wish to have their fingers in the pie. But here’s a real test for the Senate: it’s the one I raised with Senator Durbin on Monday — why not bring up legislation stating that the president’s authorization under AUMF to use the military force necessary to prevent future attacks against the country does not include the power to order electronic surveillance of terrorist communications without a warrant? If it passes, Dionne can break out his victory cigar.
JOHN adds: Yes, but if the Senate passes such a resolution, Dionne can only smoke it until November; on Election Day, it will be the Republicans–those who voted against the resolution, anyway–lighting victory cigars.
PAUL adds: Which is why, when I raised the subject of such a resolution with Senator Durbin, he started asking about my credentials.
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