Bush Urges Congress to Extend, Expand Eavesdropping Powers

President Bush tried on Thursday to pressure congressional Democrats to extend and expand the government's eavesdropping powers, which expire in eight days.

Bush, in a written statement, said the law has allowed the intelligence community to monitor the communications of terrorists.

"Congress' action or lack of action on this important issue will directly affect our ability to keep Americans safe," Bush said. Vice President Dick Cheney spoke about the same issue in a speech on Wednesday.

The law authorizes the administration to eavesdrop on phone calls and see the e-mail to and from suspected terrorists. Congress is bickering over terms of its extension.

On Tuesday, Senate Republicans blocked an effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to extend the stopgap Protect America Act without expanding it, raising stakes for an expected showdown in the Senate later this week on a new version of the law.

Congress hastily adopted the stopgap act last summer in the face of administration warnings about dangerous gaps in the government's ability to gather intelligence in the Internet age.

Administration allies in Congress not only want the expiring law made permanent but amended to give telephone companies and other communications providers immunity from being sued for helping the government eavesdropping and other intelligence-gathering efforts.