Bush May Postpone Africa Trip for Intel Bill

President Bush was set to leave for a five-day trip to Africa, but he offered to stay and "help" Congress pass an expanded version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALISON STEWART, host:

It was political theater at its best yesterday in Washington, D.C. In Act 1, President Bush staged a morning press conference, urging the House of Representatives to pass the Senate's version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA. The bill would give the government more leeway to eavesdrop on the phone calls and email traffic of suspected terrorists and anybody else. It would also give telecommunication companies immunity from lawsuits that might result from the legislation.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

The president was preparing to leave for a five-day trip to Africa, but with the legislation set to expire at midnight Saturday, he offered to help the House of Representatives.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My staff informed the House leadership that I'm prepared to delay my departure and stay in Washington with them if it will help them complete their work on this critical bill.

MARTIN: But the House said…

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My staff informed the House leadership that I'm prepared…

MARTIN: But the House did not - decided not to take him up on that offer. They want three more weeks to rework the Senate's version of FISA.

STEWART: Act 2: The House voted to hold White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers in contempt of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the contempt charges are for not cooperating with an inquiry into whether firing federal prosecutors was politically motivated. The administration claims that any documents having to do with the firings fell under executive privilege. Speaker Pelosi said, not so.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): The Congress is clearly entitled to this information. It involved neither national security information nor communications with the president. The president has no grounds to assert executive privilege.

STEWART: The vote was 223 to 32. It marks the first time in 25 years that a full chamber of Congress has voted on a contempt of Congress citation.

MARTIN: That vote led to Act 3 of the day. Republicans boycotted the vote and staged a walk out on the capital steps. Here's the Chairman of the House Republican Conference Adam Putnam.

Representative ADAM PUTNAM (Republican, Florida): Good afternoon. In just two days, the Protect America Act is set to expire, and the Democratic Congress has indicated that they're more interested in a political witch hunt than in keeping America more secure before they leave Washington for a week. America's national security is too important to be passed on an installment plan.

MARTIN: With all the drama unfolding on Capitol Hill, it looks like the president is still scheduled to begin his trip to Africa, despite that offer to stay and help them work it out.

STEWART: End Scene. The president's trip has been long planned. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen with the details.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The president's trip is designed to show the compassionate side of America and of President Bush. As he travels to Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia, you'll hear a lot about his emergency aid relief PEPFAR, and his administration's $1.2 billion program to tackle malaria. The president told an audience at the Smithsonian's Museum of African Art yesterday the malaria initiative has reached 25 million people.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We stay on this path, and extraordinary achievement is within reach. Africa can turn a disease that has taken its children for centuries into a thing of the past. And wouldn't that be fantastic?

And so Laura and I are going to spend time with these leaders. What a noble opportunity.

KELEMEN: The president will tour a mill in Tanzania where bed nets are made to protect people from mosquitoes carrying malaria. He plans to use his trip to Rwanda, the scene of a genocide in the 1990s, to highlight the fact that Rwandan troops were among the first to come to the aid of people in Darfur, Sudan, which President Bush has labeled a genocide.

Pres. BUSH: This trip, I'm going to visit with brave peacekeepers from Rwanda and they should have noticed the pain of genocide and was the first country to send troops into Darfur.

Other nations need to follow Rwanda's example. Other nations need to take this issue seriously, just like the United States does.

KELEMEN: Critics see a Bush administration that is long on rhetoric, short on action in Darfur. And his trip comes at a troubling time for a key ally, Kenya, which erupted in violence after disputed elections. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to peel off the trip for a day on Monday to go to Nairobi to address that issue, while the president stays focused on humanitarian affairs.

Emira Woods of the Institute for Policy Studies casts serious doubts about this image of Mr. Bush as a development president.

Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Institute for Policy Studies): Now is the time to focus on people, and Bush says that in rhetoric. But the reality of the program of the last eight years has been an investment and an emphasis on military might.

KELEMEN: She's been raising alarms about AFRICOM, the new U.S. military command that will focus on Africa and will have some involvement in humanitarian issues. The Bush administration has been planning to move it from Germany to Africa, but is moving a bit more cautiously now, according to Anthony Holmes of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. ANTHONY HOLMES (Director, Africa Program, Council on Foreign Relations): The U.S. has taken its foot off the accelerator, I would say, in terms of moving forward in placing an AFRICOM permanent presence on the continent.

KELEMEN: Emira Wood says that's because no one wants it, except for Liberia, which happens to be President Bush's last stop on his five-nation tour. While AFRICOM may be discussed in private there, the visit to Liberia will be mainly a symbolic show of support for how far that country has come since its civil war.

Gayle Smith of the Center for American Progress says it is the sort of evolution the Bush administration would want to highlight.

Ms. GAYLE SMITH (Center for American Progress): The fact that it has found peace, that it has Africa's first woman president who is very strong and capable, makes it a perfect story. And it's a good story. I think the question on Liberia is about staying power.

KELEMEN: Because she says the U.S. has a tendency to run in with enthusiasm and then disappear a year or two later.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Michele Kelemen reporting. You can check out npr.org to read more about President Bush's trip and see which countries he's visiting.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.