NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams stated that the Republicans "left the House chamber to protest the Democrats' refusal to renew the foreign intelligence surveillance law, which expires this week." In fact, the House voted on a measure to extend the law in question, the Protect America Act, for another 21 days, but all 195 Republicans who voted on the matter voted against it. Moreover, the "foreign intelligence surveillance law" doesn't expire this week; the Protect America Act, giving the president broad authority to intercept communications involving people in the U.S. without a warrant, expires. Even without its renewal, the government has the authority to conduct foreign intelligence surveillance.
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In a February 14 report on House Republicans' walkout from the House chamber earlier that day, NBC's Nightly News falsely suggested that House Democrats had refused to allow votes relating to the extension of the Protect America Act (PAA), a bill that amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and is set to expire on February 15. Anchor Brian Williams stated that the Republicans "left the House chamber to protest the Democrats' refusal to renew the foreign intelligence surveillance law, which expires this week." In fact, on February 13, the House voted on a measure to extend the PAA for another 21 days, but the measure failed, with a vote of 191 in favor and 229 opposed; all 195 Republicans who voted on the matter voted against the extension.
Moreover, Williams' assertion that "the foreign intelligence surveillance law ... expires this week" is false. While the PAA is set to expire this week, FISA will not.
The PAA, passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in August 2007, is a revision to FISA that, among other things, expanded the government's authority to eavesdrop on Americans' domestic-to-foreign communications without a warrant. According to the PAA's "transition procedures," if those revisions are allowed to expire on February 15, all new authorizations for surveillance would be governed by the FISA statute as it existed prior to the PAA revisions, while all current authorizations would remain in effect until their scheduled expiration date.
On February 13, after the House vote on a 21-day extension of the PAA failed, Pelosi stated: "Today, an overwhelming majority of House Democrats voted to extend that law for three weeks so that agreement could be reached with the Senate on a better version of that law. The President and House Republicans refused to support the extension and therefore will bear the responsibility should any adverse national security consequences result."
Additionally, Nightly News did not report the full reason for the Republican decision to walk off the House floor. As The Washington Post reported, House Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) led a Republican walkout just before the House was set to vote on "contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet E. Miers over their refusal to cooperate with an investigation into the mass firings of U.S. attorneys." In calling for the walkout, Boehner stated: "We have space on the calendar today for a politically charged fishing expedition, but no space for a bill that would protect the American people from terrorists who want to kill us. ... Let's just get up and leave." The House then approved the citations by a vote of 223-32. Neither ABC nor NBC reported on the contempt citations, consistent with a pattern on the part of both networks to ignore developments relating to the U.S. attorney scandal in their nightly news broadcasts.
From the February 14 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:
WILLIAMS: With all the hubbub surrounding this presidential election season, it's important to remember the business of Congress goes on -- at least it's supposed to. The Republicans, though, in the House stopped all work for a time today and staged a walkout. They left the House chamber to protest the Democrats' refusal to renew the foreign intelligence surveillance law, which expires this week.