President Bush is now daring Congress to defy his demand for more unchecked power to spy on Americans without warrants, vowing to veto temporary surveillance legislation and politicize his last State of the Union address for an attack on Democrats. Last week, Democratic leaders were considering a bill to grant a one-month extension of the administration’s spying powers, a "compromise" tilted in Bush’s favor, but Republican tactics have finally tried the patience of Majority Leader Harry Reid. He had been managing floor votes to advance the Republican bill and squash opposition from the majority of Democrats within his caucus, but that may change this week.
"The White House threat to veto a short extension of the Protect America Act is shamefully irresponsible," says Reid, who also derided Bush’s new threat as simply "posturing" for the State of the Union. Reid added that if any terror-related problems were caused by legislative delays, "the blame will clearly and unequivocally fall where it belongs: on President Bush and his allies in Congress."
That’s tough talk. It has not been matched by action yet, and unfortunately it does not add up anyway. While most Congressional Democrats have begun confronting Bush’s unconstitutional demands, a few leaders like Reid and Intelligence Chair Jay Rockefeller are actually the ones pushing the Bush spying bill. That’s the problem with Reid’s new complaint.
At this point, Bush’s "allies in Congress" on surveillance include Reid and Rockefeller. It may be hard to tell — since Bush is repaying them with "shameful" attacks, as Reid said — but they sidelined the more responsible spying bill to help Bush last week. (The "Leahy alternative" was backed by most Senate Democrats, and is closer to a Democratic bill that already passed the House.) Even with Reid pulling strings for Bush, Senate Democrats only fell four votes short of keeping the better bill alive. And they were missing two votes from their colleagues on the campaign trail, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Yet even Obama and Clinton are back in town for a night of pomp and rhetoric at the State of the Union. They both talk about "change" and "results" — and here’s a chance to act on it. It will take more than a speech or a vote to stop Bush’s bill, though, it will take leadership. That means confronting the people who are wrong in both parties — an (unpopular) President and the floor manager of an (unpopular) Congress — to stop amnesty and the blueprint for a surveillance state. It’s also what many Democratic voters want to see. The grassroots group Democracy for America (DFA) is running a full page ad in this week’s Times pressing Obama and Clinton, while the netroots is pleading with Senators to defend the "rule of law."