Pelosi Floor Statement on FISA
Washington, D.C. — Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the House floor this morning on the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The bill passed this afternoon by a vote of 293 to 129. Below are her remarks:
“We take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies foreign and domestic. In that Preamble to that Constitution, we must provide for the common defense. Essential to honoring that commitment to protect the American people is to have the operational intelligence that will help us do that.
“When I first went on the Intelligence Committee, our focus was on force protection. Our troops in the field depend on timely and reliable intelligence to make the decisions necessary to keep them safe and to do their job. It is still a primary responsibility of our Intelligence Committee.
“In addition to that, we have the fight on the war on terrorism. The fight against terrorism wherever it may exist. Good intelligence is necessary for us to know the plans of the terrorist and to defeat those plans. So we can’t go without a bill. That’s just simply not an option. But to have a bill we must have a bill that does not violate the Constitution of the United States and this bill does not.
“Some of the press has said that under this legislation, this bill would allow warrantless surveillance of Americans. That is not true. This bill does not allow warrantless surveillance of Americans.
“In terms of the original FISA bill, it’s interesting to note that this bill is an improvement on that in three important ways.
“First, we all recognize the changes in technology necessitate a change in the legislation and this legislation today modernizes our intelligence gathering system by recognizing and responding to the technological developments that have occurred since the original FISA Act in 1978. In doing so, we can make our country safer in a more advanced, technological way.
“Second, and this is very important and this is some misunderstanding about this, this bill provides that Americans overseas receive the same FISA protections, including an individualized warrant based on probable cause, as Americans living within the country. This is a very important improvement on the original FISA Act.
“Third, this bill strengthens congressional oversight, and this is very important, the transparency. Transparency and intelligence don’t always go together. But accountability is central to intelligence. This strengthens congressional oversight by requiring the executive branch to provide more extensive information about the conduct of surveillance to both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. This is new, this is better, the more we know, the better I think the law will be enforced.
“If this bill does not pass, we are almost certain to be left with the Senate bill. I think that’s clear. And this bill is an improvement over the Senate bill in the following ways, just to name a few.
“First of all, it reaffirms that FISA is the exclusive means of collecting foreign intelligence and makes absolutely clear that the enactment of an authorization for the use of force does not give the President, whoever he may be, any inherent authority to alter the requirements of FISA. This is important because President Bush believed, and this was what we were told, that he as President of the United States had inherent authority under the Constitution to do almost anything he wanted. And what this bill reaffirms is that the FISA law is the authority for collecting foreign intelligence. There is no inherent authority of the President to do whatever he wants. This is a democracy; it is not a monarchy.
“Secondly, an improvement over the Senate bill, and by the way, no offense to President Bush, I wouldn’t want any President, Democrat or Republican, to have that authority. It provides that except in rare circumstances, there will be pre-surveillance review by the FISA court. And when I say rare circumstances, I mean very rare.
“Third, unlike the Senate bill, this legislation retains FISA’s broad definition of ‘electronic surveillance’ and thus guarantees that the basic protections of FISA apply to all the new forms of collection authorized by the bill. There had been an attempt, and that’s why the Senate bill is inferior in this respect, to just narrow it to certain kinds of collection. And this says it applies to all collection electronic surveillance.
“Fourth, it contains specific protections against reverse targeting. This word targeting is very important to the civil liberties of the American people and I am satisfied by the specific provision against reverse targeting. It provides a full and independent review of the President’s Terrorist Surveillance Program by the Inspectors General of the relevant agencies.
“Of course, there are aspects of the compromise bill that I do not like.
“I do not believe that Congress should be in the business of interfering with ongoing lawsuits and attempting to grant immunity to telecommunications companies that allegedly violated the law. Those companies have not lived up to the standards expected by the American people. I don’t think today is any cause of celebration for them. They come out of this with a taint.
“I do not believe that the pending lawsuits would have achieved what we would have liked them to do, which the Inspector General’s review would, which is to learn the truth about the President’s Terrorist Surveillance Program and give us the information we need to make sure that never happens again.
“In addition, this legislation makes sure that in the future the telephone companies must comply fully with federal statutes.
“So again, a difficult decision for all of us. I respect every opinion that was expressed on this floor today. The knowledge, the sincerity, the passion, and the intellect of those who support and oppose this have been very valuable in making the bill better, if not good enough for some, but certainly preferable to the alternative that we have which is the Senate bill, which must be rejected.
“I’m not asking anyone to vote for this bill. I just wanted you to know why I was. Thank you, Madam Speaker.”