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House okays wiretapping bill

The key election year measure would give legal status to President Bush's spying program.

Published September 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - The House approved a bill Thursday that would grant legal status to President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program with new restrictions. Republicans called it a test before the election of whether Democrats want to fight or coddle terrorists.

"You can't say that you're serious about taking on the terrorists if you stand up here every day and vote 'no,' " Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said before the bill passed 232-191.

"To always have reasons why you just can't vote 'yes,' I think speaks volumes when it comes to which party is better able and more willing to take on the terrorists and defeat them," Boehner said.

Democrats, meanwhile, said the bill gives the president too much power and leaves the law vulnerable to being overturned by a court.

"It is ceding the president's argument that Congress doesn't matter in this area," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., gives legal status under certain conditions to Bush's warrantless wiretapping of calls and e-mails between people on U.S. soil making calls or sending e-mails and those in other countries.

Under the measure, the president would be authorized to conduct such wiretaps if he:

- Notifies the House and Senate intelligence committees and congressional leaders.

- Believes an attack is imminent and later explains the reason and names the individuals and groups involved.

- Renews his certification every 90 days.

The Senate could vote on a similar bill before Congress recesses at the end of the week. Leaders concede that differences between the versions are so significant they cannot reconcile them into a final bill that can be delivered to Bush before the Nov. 7 congressional elections.

For its part, the White House announced it strongly supported passage of the House version but wasn't satisfied with it, adding that the administration "looks forward to working with Congress to strengthen the bill as it moves through the legislative process."

But with Congress giving Bush the other half of his September antiterrorism agenda - a bill setting conditions on how terrorism suspects are to be detained, interrogated and tried - Republicans shifted from lawmaking to campaign mode.

Also Thursday, a federal judge in Detroit who struck down the warrantless surveillance program turned aside a government request for an indefinite stay. U.S. Judge Anna Diggs Taylor said the government could have a week to appeal.

[Last modified September 29, 2006, 01:28:00]

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