Fox News' Bret Baier reported that "in recent days ... Republicans have tried to link surveillance reauthorization to almost every" piece of legislation House Democrats have tried to pass. In fact, the authority to conduct "surveillance" does not need "reauthorization"; the government currently has the authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists primarily through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
On the March 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, chief White House correspondent Bret Baier reported that "in recent days, House Democratic leaders have not been able to pass even the most non-controversial bills, because Republicans have tried to link surveillance reauthorization to almost every one." In fact, the authority to conduct "surveillance" does not need "reauthorization"; the government currently has the authority to eavesdrop on the communications of suspected terrorists primarily through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), originally passed in 1978. What House Republicans have tried to get the House to approve is a Senate-passed bill that would, for the most part, extend until the end of 2013 revisions to FISA enacted by Congress in August 2007 as the Protect America Act (PAA). As The Washington Post reported on February 13, the PAA "expanded the government's authority to intercept -- without a court order -- the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States communicating with others overseas." The Post article continued: "U.S. intelligence agencies previously had broad leeway to monitor the communications of foreign terrorism suspects but needed warrants to monitor calls intercepted in the United States, regardless of where they originated."
Media Matters for America has documented numerous media outlets advancing the false assertion that since the PAA expired in mid-February, the government no longer has the authority to spy on suspected terrorists. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) noted in a February 13 statement that "the underlying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which provides for the surveillance of terrorists and provides that in emergencies surveillance can begin without warrant, remains intact and available to our intelligence agencies." Further, a February 14 New York Times article reported regarding the PAA's expiration:
The lapsing of the deadline would have little practical effect on intelligence gathering. Intelligence officials would be able to intercept communications from Qaeda members or other identified terrorist groups for a year after the initial eavesdropping authorization for that particular group.
If a new terrorist group is identified after Saturday [February 16], intelligence officials would not be able to use the broadened eavesdropping authority. They would be able to seek a warrant under the more restrictive standards in place for three decades through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
In addition, contrary to Baier's assertion that, in recent days, "House Democratic leaders have not been able to pass even the most non-controversial bills" due to Republicans' attempts to pass the Senate bill, the House has passed several bills in recent days. For example:
- On March 5, the House passed the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act after defeating a Republican attempt to replace the entire bill with the text of the Senate-passed FISA amendments bill.
- On March 4, the House voted to pass three non-controversial bills through a parliamentary procedure requiring at least two-thirds of members to vote in favor. Additionally, the House passed two more non-controversial bills through the same procedure on March 5.
From the March 6 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
[begin video clip]
BAIER: The Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly, 68 to 29, last month. House Republicans and the White House wanted quick action on that bill before the surveillance law, updated in August, only for a short time, expired. Republicans did not agree to a proposed extension. House Democrats did not act. The law did expire, and defensive House leaders blamed Republicans.
REP. STENY HOYER (House majority leader): And so we said, give us 21 days. We'll let the law continue for 21 days that you claim is important to protect America, which we believe you have the authority to do anyway, and I want to get back to that. But you wouldn't do it.
BAIER: The president seized on that extension timeline in his speech today, saying the Democrats' own timeline runs out Saturday.
PRESIDENT BUSH: If House leaders are serious about security, they will need to meet the deadline they set for themselves, pass the bipartisan Senate bill, and get it to my desk this Saturday.
BAIER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), said last weekend that Democrats were close to an agreement. But there was no movement this week, and the House speaker was asked if the Senate bill will come to the floor next week.
PELOSI: We're working on trying to reach a compromise.
[end video clip]
BAIER: House leaders are in a pickle. If the Senate bill did come to the House floor, Republicans point out, there are more than enough votes for it to pass. Added to that pressure, in recent days, House Democratic leaders have not been able to pass even the most non-controversial bills, because Republicans have tried to link surveillance reauthorization to almost every one -- Brit.