A March 14 article by Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., made several errors in decrying House inaction on electronic surveillance legislation.
First, on the very day her note was published, the House passed legislation that would grant new authority for electronic surveillance. This bill, which represents a collaborative effort between the House and Senate, would give intelligence agencies stronger tools to track terrorist communications while preserving important constitutional rights for Americans.
Second, the expiration of the so-called "Protect America Act" (PAA) has not degraded our nation's intelligence collection capability. Bachmann chose to quote the director of national intelligence in his Feb. 5 testimony to support her argument, but on Feb. 23 the administration had to issue a retraction of those statements, stating that the government is now getting full cooperation from telecommunications companies and that the authorities of the PAA remain in full effect.
I find it troubling that the congresswoman chose to use a subsequently retracted statement in lobbying on a matter of such importance. Unfortunately, this is consistent with the scare tactics we have seen from Republicans in Congress and in the administration on this issue.
Fortunately some in the administration have tried to set the record straight. In an interview with the New York Times, Ken Wainstein, the assistant attorney general for national security, said intelligence officials would still be able to continue eavesdropping under the PAA for a year past its expiration.
Third, while Bachmann complains about the expiration of the PAA, she voted against a 21-day extension that House Democrats offered on Feb. 13 to keep the law in place pending our work on a new law.
The congresswoman suggests that Democrats should simply pass the bill the Senate approved. But the people have elected us not simply to rubber-stamp the actions of the Senate, but to exercise our judgment and pass bills that are in the best interests of the American people.
House Democrats have been working hard to find an effective solution to what is, admittedly, a challenging problem, and the bill we passed last Friday gives the intelligence community all the tools it needs to conduct surveillance on terrorists. Despite that, the Republicans have attempted to thwart our efforts, insisting that we have only two choices: Take their legislation or leave it. The House of Representatives is not in the take-it-or-leave-it business.
I resent Bachmann's suggestion that we are shirking our responsibility to the American people. As the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, I am committed to taking this fight to the terrorists, but I remain convinced that we can do that while stopping this administration -- or any administration -- from conducting warrantless spying on Americans. Our responsibility includes not only the safety of the American people but also the safety and sanctity of the American Constitution. We must protect both.