Republicans today failed to muster the 60 votes needed to end debate on a bill extending and expanding the Protect America Act, a temporary measure that gave the executive branch the unilateral authority to order surveillance of international communications involving people in the U.S. The bill the Bush administration wants would permanently amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow such spying without court approval and give retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that helped the NSA carry it out before it was legalized. In his State of the Union address tonight, President Bush is expected to attack Democrats for endangering national security by failing to approve the bill he favors. Meanwhile, however, he has threatened to veto any bill that temporarily extends the Protect America Act, which expires on Friday, to allow more time for debate. If he follows through on that threat, he will be depriving intelligence agencies of tools he has said are necessary to prevent terrorist attacks. By his own account, then, Bush is prepared to risk the lives of Americans just to score political points.
I analyzed the Protect America Act's assault on privacy last August and noted Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell's comments on the fatal effects of criticizing the Bush administration in September.