WASHINGTON – President Bush lobbied the House again on Wednesday to pass an intelligence law allowing government eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails of suspected terrorists. Failure to renew the expired law is "inexcusable" and "indefensible," Bush said.
"There is still an extremist threat," Bush said. "People still want to attack our country. And we'd better understand what they're thinking, what they're planning and who they're talking to."
The Senate has already passed its version of the measure to renew the law, which expired Feb. 16.
The Senate legislation would provide retroactive legal protection for telecommunications companies that wiretapped U.S. phone and computer lines at the government's request after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, without court permission. Bush backs giving the telecommunications companies immunity, but the House version does not include it.
"It's expired because people want to take class action lawsuits against private phone carriers and other companies that are believed to have helped us protect America," Bush said in the Oval Office while he met with the leader of the Czech Republic. "It's not fair to say, "It's important for you to help us and then you get sued for billions of dollars."
The president's pitch was the latest installment in a long-running debate between Bush and congressional Democrats.
Bush, on his flight home from six days in Africa last week, told reporters that he sees no way to compromise with Democrats over giving retroactive lawsuit immunity to telecoms that helped the government eavesdrop. Instead, he said his strategy for breaking the legislative deadlock would involve hammering away about why Congress should pass the law on his terms.
Bush lobbied for the terrorist surveillance law in his radio address on Saturday, in welcoming the governors to the White House on Monday and in a political speech to Republican governors Monday night.