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Congress gives Bush administration more eavesdropping leeway

  • Story Highlights
  • Secret court ruling prompted push for updating the program
  • President Bush had urged the House to pass the bill without delay
  • Measure expands government's power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House late Saturday night approved the Republican version of a measure amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by a vote of 227-183, with most Republicans and conservative Democrats supporting the bill.

The White-House backed legislation closes what the Bush administration has called critical gaps in U.S. intelligence capability by expanding the government's abilities to eavesdrop without warrants on foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States.

Lawmakers have been scrambling to pass a bill acceptable to the White House before they leave for a monthlong summer recess.

President Bush had threatened to veto any bill that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said did not meet his needs.

The Senate approved its Republican-sponsored bill Friday night. Immediately after that vote, a Democratic-sponsored bill failed to reach the 60-vote majority.

Saturday night's vote followed fireworks in the House, where an angry group of Republicans accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of delaying a vote on the bill, the president's legislative priority.

"Last night, the Senate passed this bill at about 9:30. Now it's almost 1 o'clock. We should have had the FISA bill on the floor the first thing this morning," Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan told reporters in the early afternoon.

"We could have passed a rule and passed this bill by 11 o'clock this morning, and it could have been on its way, and the president could have signed it," said Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.

House Democrats rearranged the schedule so the FISA bill could be considered ahead of a measure dealing with Defense Department funding.

The House on Friday night rejected a Democratic version of the bill.

FISA allows officials to apply to a secret court for a warrant to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens.

But there was a rush to update the program after a ruling by the secret FISA court earlier this year.

It said the current law also requires a warrant for monitoring foreigners' communications because so many overseas calls and e-mails are sent through U.S. switching centers, U.S. officials said.

Before the ruling, investigators always thought they didn't need warrants to operate outside the United States. The decision hurt the intelligence community's ability to monitor suspected terrorists in other parts of the world, they said. Video Watch Kelli Arena's report on what some call an intelligence gap »

Democrats had objected to provisions in the GOP bill that grant the attorney general and the director of national intelligence the authority to approve all wiretaps, even if one party is in the United States, with minimal court oversight.

The administration initially proposed to give the authority only to the attorney general, but agreed to add the director of national intelligence after Democrats objected to putting more power in the hands of embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. McConnell had signaled his disapproval of both Democratic-sponsored measures.

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Despite the push from the Democratic leadership for their bill, several Democrats said during debate that they would vote in favor of both measures.

All the bills are temporary fixes -- the Democratic bill would have expired in four months, while the GOP bill gives lawmakers six months to overhaul the 30-year-old law. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Evan Glass and Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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