WASHINGTON – Several lawmakers said Sunday they will press President Bush to justify his decision to allow domestic eavesdropping, rebuffing GOP suggestions their criticism of broad executive authority puts the nation at risk.
During the Sunday talk shows, lawmakers were responding to efforts by White House aide Karl Rove to make national security the top partisan issue in the November midterm elections. Rove made the comments about the time that new audiotape warnings by Usama bin Laden were released, threatening an upcoming attack on the U.S.
"I think Karl Rove made a big mistake last Friday to use this issue as his opening salvo to Republican operatives," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
"The terrorists aren't going to check our party registration before they blow us up. ...We're under attack as America," she said on ABC's "This Week."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., appearing on "Fox News Sunday," said the new threats emphasize a greater need for Bush to fully consult with lawmakers from both parties on the best strategy for spy programs within the confines of the law.
"Do I think that the president's leadership has been worthy of support of our party and our leadership? Yes," McCain said.
But McCain questioned efforts to paint Democrats as weak on national security.
"There's too many good Democrats over there who are as concerned about national security and work just as hard as I do," McCain said.
On Friday, Rove outlined a blueprint for Republicans to prevail in the midterm elections, suggesting that Democrats have undermined anti-terror efforts by questioning Bush's authority to allow wiretapping without getting court approval first.
Bush has cited a congressional resolution passed after Sept. 11, 2001 that authorized him to use force in the fight against terrorism as allowing him to order the program. The program allows eavesdropping of international phone calls and e-mails of people deemed a terror risk.
Several lawmakers from both parties, including McCain and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, have questioned the program's legality because Bush did not get court approval nor fully consult with Congress. Specter's committee will hold a hearing Feb. 6.
On Sunday, some Republicans echoed Rove's anti-terror themes, arguing that Bush should have broad power even if the 2001 congressional resolution did not expressly authorize or otherwise notify lawmakers of the domestic spying.
Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who is considered a possible 2008 presidential contender, said there are many security measures he doesn't know — and shouldn't know — because it could risk alerting the enemy.
"Neither did I know what sort of intercepts or communications of financial assistance or other things that I don't know about," he said.
Allen cited in particular the new bin Laden tape which surfaced last week as evidence that the terror cells might exist in the U.S. and might be preparing to attack should law enforcement officials let their guard down.
"I find nothing wrong with having a hearing. This maybe ought to be something that you would ratify — yes, the president has this authority," Allen said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. said Rove is being divisive by seeking to exploit the terror threat for political gain. Wartime should not give a president unchecked authority, he said on ABC's "This Week."
"You know, Usama bin Laden is going to die of kidney failure before he's killed by Karl Rove and his crowd," Kerry said. "We're prepared to eavesdrop wherever and whenever necessary in order to make America safer. But we need to put a procedure in place to protect the constitutional rights of Americans."