Republicans continue to mislead on Protect America Act extension

Dana Perino and Adam Putnam spin their way out of the fact that it was House Republicans, with the president's blessing, who killed the extension.

By Alex Koppelman
Published February 26, 2008 1:02AM (EST)

Republican spin about the Protect America Act's recent expiration has become clear recently: First, they'll say that Democrats oppose retroactive immunity for telecoms that assisted in warrantless wiretapping because Democrats are beholden to trial lawyers. Second, they'll say that Democrats showed a lack of urgency in keeping Americans safe, Democratic attempts to pass an extension to the PAA notwithstanding.

In a briefing today, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino hit both points. "The president's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. And in some ways, it seems that the House Democrats' most solemn obligation is to help protect the trial lawyers," Perino said. But she got tripped up when it came to speaking about the failed extension during this conversation with reporters:

PERINO: Congress has been unwilling -- the House Democrats have been unwilling to move. They had six months to work on it. They didn't. The president graciously gave them another 14 days to work on it. They didn't do it. They even proved that they couldn't pass an extension in the House...

QUESTION: If this is such a big deal, why didn't the president accept another extension?

PERINO: Because the House couldn't even pass an extension bill, even if they had wanted to. They couldn't pass it. What they need to pass is this bipartisan bill...

QUESTION: The president made clear he wouldn't accept it.

PERINO: Well, that's true, but they wouldn't have been able to pass it anyway.

What Perino somehow fails to mention is the reason House Democrats couldn't pass another extension: House Republicans -- indeed, every House Republican who voted on the extension -- voted against it.

Florida Rep. Adam Putnam, the chairman of the House Republican Conference, had similar issues with the truth in an Op-Ed he penned for the New York Post Monday.

Actually, Putnam dissembled even more than Perino did: "Until the House passes this bill, our agencies are bound by the overly bureaucratic Vietnam-era law known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. FISA was in effect on 9/11, too. A bipartisan congressional inquiry into why our nation was blindsided by those attacks later concluded that 'difficulties with the FISA process led to a diminished level of coverage of suspected al Qaeda operatives in the United States,'" Putnam wrote.

What he failed to note is that FISA is hardly a Vietnam-era law anymore. (It really wasn't a Vietnam-era law in the first place, considering that it was passed in 1978, five years after the U.S. withdrew and three years after the war ended. Actually, it was passed in response to domestic eavesdropping by the Nixon administration, but we can see why Putnam might not want to mention that while making his case.) Since 9/11, FISA has been repeatedly amended, and those amendments remain in force regardless of the PAA's expiration.

Putnam also falls back on the trial lawyer argument, writing, "It's pretty clear why House Democrats have refused to take up the Senate bill [that includes retroactive telecom immunity]: Facing intense lobbying pressure from their political patrons, they've put the interests of trial lawyers before a bipartisan bill to effectively combat terrorism." (Interestingly, as Atrios noted Monday, Democratic Leadership Council CEO Al From just wrote in a press release that Putnam "deserve[s] credit for trying to move past the hyper-partisan atmosphere on Capitol Hill.")

And, of course, Putnam argued that the Democrats were too slow in acting to protect Americans. "When the clock struck midnight on Saturday, Feb. 16, the temporary law we had put in place expired," Putnam wrote. "Speaker Pelosi's top lieutenants were perfectly content, if not serene, about their decision to put our nation's security at risk." What Putnam did not acknowledge in his Op-Ed was that he, like his House Republican colleagues, voted against a further extension of the PAA.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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