Moving to tamp down Democratic calls for an investigation of the administration's domestic eavesdropping program, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that they had reached agreement with the White House on proposed bills to impose new oversight but allow wiretapping without warrants for up to 45 days.
The agreement, hashed out in weeks of negotiations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Republicans critical of the program, dashes Democratic hopes of starting a full committee investigation because the proposal won the support of Senators Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine. The two, both Republicans, had threatened to support a fuller inquiry if the White House did not disclose more about the program to Congress.
"We are reasserting Congressional responsibility and oversight," Ms. Snowe said.
Ah, Olympia, I used to know you. You had integrity.
But that was then. This is now.
The agreement would reinforce the authority of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was created in 1978 to issue special warrants for spying but was sidestepped by the administration. The measure would require the administration to seek a warrant from the court whenever possible. If the administration elects not to do so after 45 days, the attorney general must certify that the surveillance is necessary to protect the country and explain to the subcommittee why the administration has not sought a warrant. The attorney general would be required to give an update to the subcommittee every 45 days.
And we can count on Attorney General Gonzales to be frank and open with Congress, as he always is.
However, there is still a faint glimmer of hope.
It is not clear whether all the Republican critics will back the deal. Senator Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said Congress should seek a court ruling on the legitimacy of the program in addition to new oversight. In a separate Senate committee hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Specter said, "We're having quite a time in getting responses to questions as to what has happened with the electronic surveillance program." He said he put the administration "on notice" he might seek to block its financing if Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales did not give more information. Mr. Specter said in statement later that he hoped for a solution that would avoid resorting to such an extreme action.