'I thank Mr. Conyers, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Mr. Reyes, chair of the Intelligence Committee, for their leadership in bringing this legislation to the floor. They know, as does each and every one of us, that our primary responsibility is to protect the American people. We take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the
'All of us understand, also, the role that intelligence plays in protecting our troops - force protection. That used to be our primary responsibility, and now of course, homeland security is part of that. None of us would send our troops into harm's way without the intelligence to perform their mission and keep them safe. Although some have been willing to send our men and women in uniform into harm's way without the equipment they need to keep them safe, we don't make any accusations against them that they are not patriotic Americans. We want to protect the American people.
'As Chairman Conyers and Chairman Reyes have already pointed out in some detail, this legislation will meet our responsibility to protect
'The President has said that our legislation will not make
'The Administration demands that Congress grants immunity to companies for activities about which the President wants only a small number of Members of Congress and no member of the Judicial Branch deciding any of the currently filed lawsuits to know anything about.
'The bill before us acknowledges that immunity for the companies may already exist under current law and allows that determination to be decided by a judge with due protection for classified information. Not by hundreds of people who really do not have the facts.
'Why would the Administration oppose a judicial determination of whether the companies already have immunity? There are at least three explanations:
'First, the President knows that it was the Administration's incompetence in failing to follow the procedures in the statute that prevented immunity from being conveyed - that's one possibility. They simply didn't do it right. Second, the Administration's legal argument that the surveillance requests were lawfully authorized was wrong; or third, public reports that the surveillance activities undertaken by the companies went far beyond anything about which any Member of Congress was notified, as is required by the law.
'None of these alternatives is attractive, but they clearly demonstrate why the Administration's insistence that Congress provide retroactive immunity has never been about national security or about concerns for the companies; it has always been about protecting the Administration.
'As important as the issue of immunity might be, it is chiefly important to the Administration and the telecommunications companies as they look back to events that occurred as many as six years ago. What is truly important to the security of our country and the protection of our Constitution going forward are the amendments made to FISA in Title I in this bill that is on the floor today, the so-called surveillance title of the bill.
'The bill retains three of the essential provisions of the bill passed by the House in November and in doing so, explicitly rejects again the heart of the President's warrantless surveillance program. Those provisions are:
'One, a restatement that FISA remains the exclusive -means to authorize electronic surveillance. The President likes to think that he has the inherent authority to survey and collect on anybody and this bill restates that FISA is the exclusive authority. This was a point conceded to in 1978 when the Congress of United States established the FISA law, which was signed by the President of the United States, thereby his recognition of Congress' ability to make the courts the third branch of government the exclusive authority for the collection of intelligence in the United States.
'Second, except in emergencies, FISA court approval must take place before surveillance begins. But there are exceptions in case of emergencies.
'Third, a refusal to follow the Senate in excluding - this is very important, because people are talking about the Senate bill as some great thing - from the definition of electronic surveillance activities historically considered to be within the definition. In other words, if they don't want the law to apply for a particular activity, they'll just say it doesn't fall into this bill. If the Administration's change in the definition change was accepted, 'FISA-derived' information including
'The President insists that we pass the Senate bill as is. Yet even that legislation's chief author--Chairman Rockefeller--agrees that many of the House provisions improve the Senate bill.
'This legislation before us today will ensure that our intelligence professionals have all the tools they need to protect the American people, and the President knows it.
'This legislation will also ensure that we protect what it means to be an American--our precious civil rights and civil liberties.
'Both goals are essential and both are achieved by this bill. I urge its passage.'