President Bush and his GOP brethren in Congress have reason to celebrate this week. For the first time in what seems like a political eternity, their polling numbers are heading north.
According to a new USA Today/Gallup poll, Bush’s job approval has ticked up five points over the last month. At the same time Democrats, who two months ago were preferred over Republicans in a generic matchup by a staggering 16 points, now hold only a slim two point advantage.
Much of the movement for the GOP can be attributed to recent headlines about terrorism, including the successful thwarting of a massive, 9/11-style British-originated terror plot. Indeed, according to the poll President Bush’s approval on the issue of terrorism is higher than it has been in more than a year. White House advisors have always known this is the President’s strong suit and clearly intend to talk about the issue until they are blue in the face.
Shortly after authorities disrupted the British terror plot, a federal judge in Michigan provided the White House with more fodder by ruling President Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program unconstitutional. “I strongly disagree,” Bush told reporters. Referring to liberal civil liberties groups and numerous Democrats who hailed the decision as a victory, Bush said, “Those who herald this decision simply do not understand the nature of the world in which we live.” Later, the White House released a statement further making the point.
The thwarted British terror plot reminds the world that “terrorists are still plotting to attack our country and kill innocent people,” the statement says. “United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives…The whole point is to detect and prevent terrorist attacks before they can be carried out. That's what the American people expect from their government, and it is the President's most solemn duty to ensure their protection.”
The administration’s firm conviction that the American people do in fact expect the President to use programs like TSP will only add to Bush’s, and his fellow congressional Republican’s, desire to pass a law ensuring that such programs are constitutional. Expect lawmakers to take that up as soon as Congress returns from its August recess. Indeed, even before this recent ruling congressional plans had been in place to act on legislation that would give the Terrorist Surveillance Program a congressional seal of approval, but now, conservatives in Congress have another incentive to act quickly, and they should.
James Carafano of The Heritage Foundation, an expert on Homeland Security and terrorism, recently argued that congress should do all in its power to give the President the tools he needs to successfully fight the war on terror. The successful foiling of the British terror plot “demonstrated that the U.S. needs tools like the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency’s intercept programs and that these measures can be applied without undermining civil liberties,” writes Carafano. “Providing additional authorities, such as those proposed in the Terrorism Surveillance Act of 2006, is a good way to strengthen the tools we already have.”
Spurred by successes in disrupting terror operations and perceived attacks from a liberal federal judiciary, congressional conservatives this fall will be eager to enact substantive legislation that will guarantee the administration has all the tools it needs.
It would be ridiculous to think that Republicans in Congress are not paying close attention to the politics of the issue as well. The USA Today/Gallup poll heartened Republicans. They’re no doubt be eager to watch Democrats -- who appear increasingly beholden to a liberal leftist cabal within their party -- squirm as they are made to cast tough votes on issues related to the long war on terrorism.
Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.