Senate Passes Bush Eavesdropping Bill

President Bush, right, accompanied by Vice President Dick Cheney, makes comments after meeting with the Counterterrorism Team, Friday, Aug. 3, 2007, at the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds
The Senate, in a high-stakes showdown over national security, has voted to temporarily give President George W. Bush expanded authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without court warrants.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, rejected a Democratic version of the bill Friday.

Democratic leaders there were working on a plan to bring up the Senate-passed measure and vote on it Saturday in response to Mr. Bush's demand that Congress give him expanded powers before leaving for vacation this weekend.

The White House applauded the Senate vote and urged the House to quickly follow suit.

The bill "will give our intelligence professionals the essential tools they need to protect our nation," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It is urgent that this legislation become law as quickly as possible."

Senate Democrats reluctantly voted for a plan largely crafted by the White House after Mr. Bush promised to veto a stricter proposal that would have required a court review to begin within 10 days.

The Senate bill gives Mr. Bush the expanded eavesdropping authority for six months. The temporary powers give Congress time to hammer out a more comprehensive plan instead of rushing approval for a permanent bill in the waning hours before lawmakers begin their monthlong break.

The Senate vote late Friday was 60-28. Both parties had agreed to require 60 votes for passage.

Senate Republicans, aided by Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, said the update to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, would at least temporarily close gaps in the nation's security system.

"Al Qaeda is not going on vacation this month," said Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell. "And we can't either until we know we've done our duty to the American people."

In the House, Democrats lost an effort to push a proposal that called for stricter court oversight of the way the government would ensure its spying would not target Americans.

"The rule of law is still critical in this country," Rep. John Tierney, a Democrat, said before the losing the mostly party-line 218-207 vote that fell short of two-thirds majority needed for passage. "It is exactly when the government thinks that it can be the sole, fair arbiter that we most need a judicial system to stand in and strike the balance."

"We can have security and our civil liberties," Tierney said.

Current law requires court review of government surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United States. It does not specifically address the government's ability to intercept messages believed to come from foreigners overseas.