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Congress has lost its taste for a protracted political battle with the Bush administration over the NSA intercept program and may kill a proposed investigation into the controversial effort. According to Charles Babington at the Washington Post, a fierce defense of the project by George Bush and a wider briefing of Congress has blunted the knee-jerk antagonism for the program:
Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday.
The Senate intelligence committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a Democratic-sponsored motion to start an inquiry into the recently revealed program in which the National Security Agency eavesdrops on an undisclosed number of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents without obtaining warrants from a secret court. Two committee Democrats said the panel -- made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats -- was clearly leaning in favor of the motion last week but now is closely divided and possibly inclined against it.
They attributed the shift to last week's closed briefings given by top administration officials to the full House and Senate intelligence committees, and to private appeals to wavering GOP senators by officials, including Vice President Cheney. "It's been a full-court press," said a top Senate Republican aide who asked to speak only on background -- as did several others for this story -- because of the classified nature of the intelligence committees' work.
Key GOP Senators such as Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel have apparently reconsidered their earlier demands for an investigation. Both cite the full briefing given the joint Intelligence committees last week as a sign of progress. Neither want to support an investigation if the probe has a "punitive' purpose, as Hagel put it in a statement to the Post, and the other Republicans that had voiced opposition to the program appear to agree.
Another reason for the ebbing of outrage by Congress, although unspoken and unreported by Babington, has to be the reaction of the American people. Having been informed that the administration authorized warrantless surveillance on international communications between people with ties to al-Qaeda and people in the US, the American electorate ... yawned. Most had probably presumed that such efforts had been underway all along, as the 9/11 Commission made clear that the US needed more aggressive counterterrorism of this explicit type. Over 60% of Americans favor this kind of surveillance, with or without warrants at all.
Those kind of numbers have killed the momentum for high-dudgeon hearings, especially after the Alito confirmation hearing turned into such an abomination. No one wants to sit through that again. Most members of Congress from both parties now express a desire to continue the program, as long as they can add in legislation giving Congress more oversight, mostly as a way to justify all of the rhetoric already spent on the issue. By the end of the month, the NSA program will not even rate a mention in the paper.Sphere It View blog reactions
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