Earlier this month, the House of Representatives Democrat leadership was in a panic as it faced another lengthy congressional recess without House action to fix a serious problem with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that is hampering the ability of U.S. intelligence agencies to monitor the communications of foreign terrorists. In February, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set off a firestorm of criticism when she adjourned the House for a one-week recess without taking action on a bipartisan Senate bill to fix the FISA problem and allowed legislation providing a temporary fix to expire. House Democrats feared more criticism if they left town again without appearing to take action on this issue.
This presented a dilemma for House Democrat leaders who do not actually want to pass any FISA legislation and know that if the bipartisan Senate bill was ever put to a vote in the House, it would easily pass with bipartisan support. They also feared that if a major terrorist incident happened during the congressional recess, the Democrat Congress would be blamed for tying the hands of American intelligence agencies. What House Democrat leaders needed was cover to justify going on a two-week vacation that would stave off bad press over their inaction on terrorist surveillance. This took the form of a House bill to “fix” the terrorist-surveillance problem that passed hours before the House began its Easter recess on Friday, March 14. This partisan Democrat bill has no chance of becoming law, had no input from Republican members, and faces a certain veto by President Bush. Moreover, not only is this legislation dead on arrival in the Senate, the Senate could not even take up the bill since it passed the House over 12 hours after the Senate had adjourned for its Easter recess. This legislation was more than a cynical p.r. ploy. It was Nancy Pelosi’s vacation alibi.
Why pass “vacation alibi” legislation instead of a real fix to the FISA problem? Why won’t Speaker Pelosi simply allow an honest up or down vote on the bipartisan Senate FISA bill? The answers are both simple and disturbing.
First, most congressional Democrats, especially the House leadership, do not see global terrorism as a serious threat to the United States and therefore do not support tough antiterrorism intelligence efforts. When Republicans raise recent worldwide terrorist activity, such as the December assassination of Benazir Bhutto, recent rocket attacks against Israel, and the arrests of radical jihadists in Germany and Denmark last September who allegedly were planning to attack American military bases, Democrats respond by claiming Republicans are engaging in “fear mongering.” Democrats are in denial that terrorist threats to the United States have not abated since September 11, 2001.
Second, House Democrat leaders are beholden to trial lawyers who have brought over $40 billion in lawsuits against telecommunications companies who assisted the U.S. government to monitor terrorist communications. The bipartisan Senate bill grants these companies immunity from prosecution. House Democrat leaders refuse to agree to grant immunity due to the influence of trial lawyers and liberals groups such as the ACLU and moveon.org.
And third, House Democrat leaders will not agree to a reasonable bipartisan solution to terrorist surveillance because of what can only be described as their irrational hatred of President Bush. The platform of House Democrats is built on a foundation of anti-Bush and antiwar rhetoric. Although the record is clear that inaccurate prewar assessments of Iraq’s weapons-of-mass-destruction programs were due to bad intelligence by the United States and all of its allies and not deception or pressure on intelligence analysts by the Bush administration, House Democrats still routinely claim the president and the vice president “lied” about prewar intelligence on Iraq. Many House Democrats regularly rail against the Bush administration — without any evidence — for using intelligence agencies to conduct “domestic surveillance” or “warrantless wiretaps” against ordinary Americans.
The House Democrats’ “Bush Syndrome” has backed them into a corner and left them unable to exercise responsible leadership. By refusing to fix the terrorist-surveillance problem, they have put our country at risk. By denying the achievements of the surge in Iraq they have misled the American people and turned their backs on the Iraqi elected officials who are struggling to form a stable government. House Democrat leaders have also wasted their time in power by spending inordinate amounts of time debating antiwar resolutions and other resolutions critical of the president instead of doing the people’s business such as passing appropriations bills on time.
Today, the House begins the second week of its Easter recess. Our country is less safe because American intelligence agencies have their hands tied from monitoring the communications of foreign terrorists and there is no prospect House Democrat leaders will lift a finger to help. If, God forbid, a major terrorist attack did occur during the House of Representatives’s two-week vacation, would Americans believe Nancy Pelosi’s vacation alibi?
– Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) is the ranking Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.