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Bush Presses Lawmakers to Pass Spy Bill


President Bush had a thing or two to tell Congress today, and he used a news conference to do it. To assembled reporters, he urged lawmakers in the House to adopt a foreign intelligence bill already passed by the Senate. That bill would ease the way for government wiretapping of suspected terrorists and grant legal immunity to phone companies that have cooperated with warrantless wiretapping in the past. Joining us now is NPR's Brian Naylor to talk about this. Good morning.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been hearing the drum beat on the Foreign Intelligence Bill ever since the temporary law expired 12 days ago. Where does it stand now? What's going on?

NAYLOR: Well, what's going on is the president is continuing to try to pressure Democratic Congressional leaders to give him the bill that he wants. The Senate and House have each passed different measures that would renew the FISA law which gives the government the authority to spy on the phone calls and emails of suspected terrorists. But they passed, as I say, different bills. The president wants Congress to adopt the Senate bill, which gives immunity to phone companies that are facing lawsuits charging they improperly gave information to the government after the 9-11 attacks. The president dismissed these lawsuits and the lawyers who brought them, saying they're trying to get in on what he called a financial gravy train. And he said the phone companies were being asked to provide information by the government, and that they won't cooperate in the future if they can be sued for doing so.

MONTAGNE: And the president also discussed the economy. We have a short clip here of some of what he said.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I don't think we're headed to a recession, but no question we're in a slow down. I mean, that's why we acted, and acted strongly, with over $150 billion worth of pro-growth economic incentives.

MONTAGNE: And what, then, does the president want from Congress?

NAYLOR: Well, a couple of things. He wants them to approve measures aimed at helping homeowners facing foreclosure and some tax benefits for homebuilders, but he doesn't a bill in the Senate that would allow bankruptcy court judges to change the terms of mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure. And he also seemed to be telling Congress to hold off on passing another stimulus bill until we know if their first one is working. And, of course, he also put in a pitch to make - for Congress to make permanent his tax cuts, but that's something that they're not going to do.

MONTAGNE: And the president also aimed comments on the war in Iraq to lawmakers who've criticized his policies there. Let's take a listen to a bit of that.

Pres. BUSH: It's interesting that many of the same people who once accused me of refusing to acknowledge setbacks in Iraq now are the ones who are refusing to acknowledge progress in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: Brian, where's the debate headed in Congress?

NAYLOR: The Senate for the past couple of days has been debating a measure that calls for the withdrawal of most US forces from Iraq in four months. That bill isn't going to pass. But there's going to be another fight down the road not too far when the president presents his proposal for funding the troops. Congress is going to be asked to provide more money than they're going to want, and we'll see this debate rekindled.

MONTAGNE: And, finally, the president was asked several times about the presidential campaign.

NAYLOR: Yeah. You know, he said - he kept saying, well, I'm not going to get involved in this, but he did. And he was very critical of positions taken by Democratic Senator Barack Obama in particular. In a debate the other night, Obama said - and, you know, I'm paraphrasing - he said he would remove troops from Iraq unless there was evidence al-Qaida was trying to build a base there. Well, the president said that's just what al-Qaida has been trying to do for the last four years. He also criticized the notion the US should meet with its adversaries, such as the new leader in Cuba, Raul Castro. The president said that would give stature to a regime that has abused human rights. That's something Obama has said that he would be willing to consider. Of course, the president then went on to defend his upcoming meeting with China's leader.

MONTAGNE: Brian, thanks very much.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Brian Naylor is speaking to us from the Capitol about President Bush's recent press conference just early this morning. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Renee Montagne
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.