COMING WEDNESDAY: On the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, a group of U.S. soldiers reflect on their participation in the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
President Bush's determination to have the federal government eavesdrop on Americans' electronic communications without court warrants -- in clear violation of the Constitution -- has run into a brick wall, as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives again refused to yield to his demand that telecommunications companies be granted immunity from civil lawsuits.
The House passed by a narrow margin Friday a surveillance bill that President Bush has vowed to veto if it reaches his desk. The measure, passed by a party-line vote of 213-197, denies immunity from civil lawsuits to telecommunications companies that turned over to the government the confidential records of their millions of customers without first demanding the government to produce court warrants.
Such warrants are required by the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. House Democrats insisted that they will not be a party to what they see as a wholesale disregard of Americans' Fourth Amendment constitutional right to be "secure from unreasonable searches and seizures" by the government and that it's up to the courts -- not the White House or the Congress -- to decide the legality of the government's warrantless wiretapping program.
GOP, Democrats Rip Each Other Over Spy Bill
White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto condemned the House action as a "significant step backward in defending our country against terrorism." But Fratto predicted that the House bill will go nowhere. "The good news is that the House bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate and, in any event, would be vetoed by the President if it ever got to his desk," Fratto said.
Republican House minority leader John Boehner condemned the Democrats for allowing the issue to fester over the legislature's recess. "This flawed legislation has no chance of becoming law, and the majority knows it," he said. "The fact that Congress is going on spring break, at a time when Al-Qaida and other terrorist enemies continue plotting against us, is both irresponsible and dangerous."
But if Fratto and Boehner think that House Democrats are going to roll over and play dead while the Bush administration rides roughshod over the Constitution in its pursuit of the "war on terror," they are sorely mistaken.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the House bill was an improvement on the Senate version, and accused the Bush administration of sabotaging efforts to come up with a compromise.
"Unfortunately, congressional Republicans and the administration have refused to engage in meaningful discussions or negotiations about the legislation," Leahy said. "The White House has tried, again, to treat Congress like a rubber stamp."
The White House also continues to display a callous disregard for the Constitution that the president is bound by his oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend" -- particularly the Fourth Amendment. The surveillance bill that Bush wants is a dangerous step toward an authoritarian tyranny that strips Americans of their constitutional rights.
To grant the telecoms immunity from lawsuits is to deny the American people their First Amendment constitutional right to petition the judicial branch of government for redress of grievances -- namely, the executive branch of government spying on them without probable cause and without court warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.