In what can only be called a major reversal, two Democratic leaders, Rep. Jane Harman and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, admitted the controversial NSA surveillance program was necessary for fighting terrorism.
But necessary or not, they strongly question whether the president has the authority to conduct the warrantless searches without congressional authority.
Please don't miss the significance of this turnaround. It is reminiscent of the many flip-flops the Democrats made over the U.S. invasion of Iraq. One month they approved, the next they were appalled at the thought, the next they were on board again.
What changed their minds? New information? Not on your life. They had the same information as the president, though many of them weren't interested enough to study it in detail.
Similarly, with the NSA surveillance program, their key leaders were briefed on the matter, but just as with Iraqi WMD, they pretend it never occurred and act as though they were taken by surprise or duped.
What changed their minds on Iraq is the same thing that's changing their minds today on the NSA program: public opinion. Once again, their attempt to demonize and hamstring the commander in chief has backfired. Once again, they have exposed themselves as the party frightfully weak on national security and dangerously tentative on the War on Terror. This is not where they want to be as we approach the 2006 elections. Thus their mad scramble, yet again, to revise recent history.
Watch for Democrats to insist they've always been supportive in principle of the NSA program but just concerned over the president's constitutional authority to conduct warrantless "searches." But this won't fly.
Their position before was that they might be in favor of intercepting these communications but not without a warrant. That's what the FISA court is for, they insisted. "Get the warrant and safeguard the Fourth Amendment and our civil liberties."
They went on to mislabel the NSA intercepts where at least one party was not located in the United States as "domestic spying." Both words, "domestic," and "spying," were calculated to paint the president in a negative light and to taint what these Democrats now acknowledge is a program that is "necessary for fighting terrorism."
The "domestic" label was clearly misleading in that it implied that all parties to the communication were located on American soil, which is not the case. By coupling it with "spying," they intended to conjure up images of Dan Aykroyd impersonating a paranoid Richard Nixon mulling his enemies list in the Oval Office, then equating George Bush with this ugly practice.
It fit nicely with their long-running scheme to depict the president as the autocratic "King George," who acts unilaterally, beyond his constitutional authority and in derogation of the people's rights, to spy on innocent American citizens. This has always been a pernicious lie. The NSA surveillance program specifically excluded purely domestic communications and was never targeted at innocent citizens but at conversations where at least one party was a known or suspected terrorist.
These Democratic leaders are suggesting they would approve of these warrantless intercepts, provided Congress approved of the practice. But they can't have it both ways. If the intercepts were "domestic spying" then, they still are.
Are you following me? These leaders are now saying that all they've ever objected to is that the president has engaged in this practice without congressional approval. But such consent wouldn't do anything to answer their earlier-stated objection that the intercepts are unconstitutional.
The Fourth Amendment doesn't say that searches can be conducted without a warrant provided Congress provides its formal blessing. It protects the people from "unreasonable" searches and seizures. As we all know, the courts have long held that in certain special circumstances, searches without a warrant can be reasonable. But the last time I checked, there was no "congressional approval" exception to the warrant requirement.
Concerning the false charge that President Bush, through his NSA "signals intelligence," has been engaged in domestic spying, the Democrats have made their own bed and should not be let off the hook. (This mixed metaphor inspires amusing images that are too good to pass up.)
If the program constitutes domestic spying without the consent of Congress, it will involve domestic spying with it. The ordinary citizen will be no more protected from "unreasonable" searches with advance blanket legislative authorization than without it.
Of course, the program is emphatically not "domestic spying," in the sense that Democrat demagogues used that phrase a few short days ago. But since they coined the phrase, it must now be said that a few major Democratic leaders support "domestic spying."