The senators drafted the deal with the White House's negotiator, Vice President Dick Cheney, who is usually behind the scenes when the nation's worst policies are formed torture, wars and now domestic spying. The deal allows the president to continue to order warrantless wiretapping despite the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requiring him to consult a special tribunal. The eavesdropping is illegal, and changing the law after it's been broken does not excuse the president from violating the Constitution. A Congress controlled by Republicans, allegedly the party that opposes Big Government, should know that.
Two Republicans in particular who initially expressed outrage at the president's tactics, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, have been whipped into line. They are claiming victory over the White House for the deal by saying they forced a compromise, but in reality they allowed the president to avoid an inquiry into the program and granted him the same powers he had already usurped.
Indeed, the White House is downplaying the deal as unnecessary and presses on arrogantly. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that the senators didn't have to rewrite the law considering the president hadn't broken it in the first place. Any admission that the law needed revision to allow for the program would mean that the wiretapping wasn't appropriate in the first place.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month defending the spying, Mr. Gonzales claimed Congress authorized the wiretapping in its Authorization for Use of Military Force, when it signed off on the war in Afghanistan. That authorization said nothing about allowing the president to violate civil liberties, and Congress, not just Democrats, should be outraged.
Congress has done little oversight of the president's surveillance authority and knows next to nothing of the program, as the Republican senators proved too timid to conduct hearings on it. What they came up with was a law that gives the president 45 days before he has to report to the foreign intelligence court on wiretaps he ordered. If he feels he doesn't have to report it he won't have to, but he will have to justify his actions to a new Senate panel, which so long as Republicans are in charge will continue to bow and scrape before the White House.
Many questions remain, among them, how many wiretaps has the president ordered? Who decides who is a terrorist suspect, and how? How many other programs other than this one exist doing more harm to civil liberties? In a letter to Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the attorney general hinted that other programs outside the scope of the domestic eavesdropping are out there. More inquiries are needed not less. But don't expect them from Republican leaders.