Senate Intelligence Panel to Vote on NSA Spying
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. A key senator says it appears the Bush administration has made a concession regarding its domestic spying program, and that it's headed off, for now, a congressional inquiry. This afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee was prepared to vote on an investigation, but that vote did not take place, and it's not clear whether it will later. The president's allies on Capitol Hill are pushing for legislation to give legal cover to the surveillance program. NPR's David Welna reports from the Capitol.
DAVID WELNA: After meeting with committee members behind closed doors for nearly two hours, Senate Intelligence Panel Chair Pat Roberts emerged to announce that the only vote taken had been to adjourn. Roberts said rather than decide now on whether to do a probe into the National Security Agency's warrantless spying program, the panel has delayed any further action until March 7.
PAT ROBERTS: If by that time we have reached no detailed accommodation with the administration with regard to the committee's oversight role, it is very possible that the committee may well vote to conduct and inquiry into the program. The administration has come a long way in the last month. I am optimistic and I am hopeful that we will have an agreement before the committee meets again.
WELNA: Roberts argued that White House officials who'd earlier resisted any kind of legislative fix to the NSA program had come around to considering such a fix, and also to considering congressional oversight of the program. But Jay Rockefeller, who is the panel's top Democrat, and who's been pushing for an inquiry into the spying program for two months, was clearly angry about the outcome of today's meeting. He declared the Intelligence Committee had abdicated its responsibilities, and he disputed whether the Bush administration had really changed its stance on the spying program.
JAY ROCKEFELLER: They say that the White House is just about to tip over into our direction. There is nothing that I have seen or heard from the vice president or any of his people that show any flexibility whatsoever with respect to informing the full committee, remember if it's not the full Intelligence Committee, it doesn't matter.
WELNA: Rockefeller was referring to a proposal by Ohio Republican Mike DeWine for legislation that would set up a subcommittee to oversee the NSA program, made up of only several Senators. Today at the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan, praised DeWine's proposal, but also made clear he considers it no more than a good idea.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: We are open to ideas regarding legislation. The one thing the president said was that he would resist legislation if it would compromise this vital program that helps save lives and prevent attacks from happening.
WELNA: But McClellan said nothing about another proposal coming from Arlen Specter, the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Specter wants the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to first rule on whether the NSA program is constitutional, and if it does, then to screen subsequent surveillance initiatives. Specter was dismissive today of DeWine's proposal for an oversight panel.
ARLEN SPECTER: Unless they're prepared to have a determination on constitutionality as to their programs, window dressing oversight will not be sufficient.
WELNA: California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who is on the Intelligence Committee, said it's not enough to pass a law that says the NSA program is legal.
DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I think we have to look at this program. I am very concerned about it because I have a suspicion, and I hope I'm wrong, that the program is very big, and that its scope is very wide.
WELNA: If no consensus is reached by March 7th for a legislative fix, those calling for an investigation into the spying program will certainly push for the Intelligence Committee vote they did not get today.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.