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Week In Politics: Syria, FISA Court, Debt Ceiling

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Week In Politics: Syria, FISA Court, Debt Ceiling


Week In Politics: Syria, FISA Court, Debt Ceiling

Week In Politics: Syria, FISA Court, Debt Ceiling

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Audie Cornish talks to talks to political commentators E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution and Amy Holmes, anchor of "The Hotlist" on They discuss President Obama's bus tour, the FISA court and the debt ceiling.


And we're going to pick up from there with our Friday political commentators, E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and The Washington Post. Hey there, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE: Hey, how are you?

CORNISH: And sitting in for David Brooks this week is Amy Holmes, anchor of "The Hot Lit" on Hi there, Amy.

AMY HOLMES: Great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So E.J., last week when we were talking about the political crisis in Egypt, you said that what we're seeing from the Obama administration is not paralysis, but caution. Do you feel the same way about Syria?

DIONNE: I think I very much do. And I think as Scott Horsley just reported, the president talked about the danger of jumping into stuff that does not turn out well and gets us mired in very difficult situations. I think that he's got a problem because very early on he said if they use chemical weapons, it's a red line, we have to do something. But I think he is very reluctant to choose between one side where you have al-Qaida and the other side where you have Hezbollah.

And there is not good policy that he can think of that would involve heavy American intervention. Having said that, I think the latest reports on chemical weapons are going to increase the pressure on the Western countries to do something, but we don't know what that is.


HOLMES: Well, indeed, and the French are already calling for a military reaction to what appears to be a nerve gas attack in Syria. But the president is also hemmed in by American public opinion. FOX News had a poll just this past May that found that 68 percent of voters oppose U.S. military intervention in Syria. That includes 70 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats.

So, President Obama would not necessarily, according to that poll, have the support of the American people for a military intervention, which, of course, would complicate any kind of effort as commander in chief. And let's not overlook that he jumped into a military intervention in Libya and for the stated purpose of protecting the citizens of Benghazi and, of course, we know how that turned out.

CORNISH: I want to move on to some other news this week and these were new revelations about the NSA, this idea that an audit showed that they overstepped privacy rights and was admonished by the FISA court. That's the court that's supposed to oversee its activities. Now, buried in the papers today were the names of the four appointees by President Obama to his proposed independent review board that's supposed to kind of take a look at what's been going on with the NSA phone and data monitoring programs.

Is this a first step towards kind of curbing the public's concern about this? I don't know who wants to jump in first.

HOLMES: Well, I'll jump in and The Washington Post, E.J.'s paper, rather cheekily both did a blog today that points out that the person that Obama has chosen to oversee this panel, Mr. Cass Sunstein, who's a professor of law at Harvard, he, himself, in a paper that he wrote back in 2008, that he co-authored, suggested that government should hire private companies to infiltrate chat rooms and even real life groups to break up ideological complexes and conspiracy theories.

So the idea that Mr. Sunstein would be in charge of NSA abuses of investigating and surveiling domestically is a little complicated (unintelligible).

CORNISH: But, E.J., how about this, right - three out of the four appointees have worked in and out of the administration in security roles. What's your take here?

DIONNE: Well, I think Cass Sunstein, a distinguished law professor, cares a lot about civil liberties, is a very smart and practical guy. I think, for years, we tilted heavily in favor of security. Americans want to be protected from terrorist attacks. We also want our privacy. And nearly 12 years after 9/11, I think we're prepared to renegotiate the bargain on behalf of more privacy.

And I think that's what this commission is about. The good news is that we're learning a lot and that these disclosures are to be applauded. But we're also learning that we weren't told things that some of the surveillance may have been questionable. My colleague Ruth Marcus wrote that an intelligence community consistently too cute by half ends up hurting itself and the folks they're trying to protect. I think we're trying to rebalance now and I think that's a good thing.

CORNISH: We're also seeing a real divide with Republicans about what to do about this. This week on our air we had Congressman Sensenbrenner, one of the authors of the Patriot Act talking about the NSA was out of control, the Patriot Act needs to be changed. Amy, what do you make of this split and how this conversation is being had?

HOLMES: Well, that's right and Mr. Sensenbrenner has been appalled by what's been revealed. And let's remember that all of these revelations were forced on the NSA by Mr. Snowden and his revelations. It's not the administration coming clean. And, in fact, the director of national intelligence, Mr. James Clapper, told a Senate hearing committee that, well, as he described it, the least untruthful answers that he could provide to sitting senators who are supposed to have to oversight of the NSA. When it comes to...

DIONNE: Oh by the way...

HOLMES: Sorry, when it comes to Republicans being divided on it, I think what you're seeing is this national security divide. Peter King, the Republican from New York, he's, you know, very much in favor of the NSA or at least defending the NSA, rather, while you have your civil liberties and libertarians on the right who are coming out very loudly against it.

CORNISH: E.J., last 30 seconds to you.

DIONNE: (Unintelligible) to agree with Amy that we should acknowledge that we wouldn't be getting all this stuff without the Snowden leaks, whatever people may think of those.

CORNISH: E.J. Dionne of the Brookings Institution and the Washington Post, and Amy Holmes, anchor of "The Hotlist" on Thank you both for being with us.

DIONNE: Thank you.

HOLMES: Thank you.

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