House Democrats have been forced to pull their proposed legislation to change the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because they couldn’t round up enough support among Dems who need the votes of non-liberals to be re-elected. You probably recall that the Democratic leadership was embarrassed two months ago when these same non-leftist Dems joined with Republicans to pass a temporary FISA fix so that our intelligence agencies could monitor the overseas communications of terrorists without obtaining a warrant. Still unwilling to provide the administration with the FISA fix it needs to ensure the gathering of information vital to the national security, the Democratic leadership has been slapped down again by members of its own caucus.
The defects in the Democrats’ legislation are obvious. As the Washington Times notes, it “would require a court order to gather communications when a foreign terrorist tries to contact someone in the United States” even though “from 1978 when FISA was first enacted until this year, no such requirement existed.” Apparently the Democratic view of a FISA “fix” is to make the legislation more onerous now that the threat of a terrorist attack on the homeland has become so very real.
Indeed, as the Times explains, under the Democrats’ legislation a court order would be needed “to monitor communications of the very terrorists that American GIs are fighting on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.” Until this year, it was considered legal under FISA to monitor terrorists in Iraq by placing a wiretap in the United States. However the special court overseeing FISA has called this into question. Any congressional fix should remove the question.
Brian Walsh and Todd Gaziano of the Heritage Foundation extend the critique of the Democrats’ attempt to impose “a Byzantine and unprecedentedly burdensome intelligence regime on those charged with protecting Americans from international terrorists.” Among other things, they ask:
Why Congress would depart from the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission by making it more difficult and cumbersome to gather intelligence on Islamic terrorists;
Whether there was any actual harm (rather than psychic harm that supposedly results from potential surveillance) to any American citizens as a result of five years of intelligence gathering on foreign terrorists since 9/11 and, if so, what that supposed harm was;
Why Congress believes it has the constitutional authority, with or without a court’s assistance, to micromanage decisions about which potential foreign enemies to gather information on, when that power is constitutionally vested in the commander in chief;
Why no previous President–Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or Bill Clinton–has ever conceded that FISA or any other regulatory regime crafted by Congress is the sole means by which a President may collect intelligence for national security purposes; and
Why Americans should entrust to Congress and congressional staff members a database containing information on every American whose name is mentioned as part of a national security investigation.
My question is: how did the Democrats sink to a place where they place pandering to left-wing constituencies and sticking it to the president ahead of the safety of Americans, including American GIs? Tonight, more than a few “moderate” congressional Dems are probably wondering the same thing.
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