Even as the Bush administration defended one aspect of the war on terror before the United States Supreme Court, the president himself defended another aspect in the court of public opinion.
Mr. Bush used his weekly radio address plus two campaign events in New York and Pennsylvania to urge an extension of the Patriot Act, the wide-ranging anti-terror legislation scheduled to be phased out starting in 2005.
"Many of the Patriot Act's anti-terror tools are set to expire next year," the president said during an April 19 stop in Pennsylvania, where he was stumping for embattled GOP Sen. Arlen Specter. "The problem is, the war on terror continues, and yet some senators and congressmen not only want provisions to expire but they want to roll back some of the features."
Among the features scheduled to disappear unless Congress takes additional action:
A provision that allows law enforcement to obtain library records on demand
One-stop shopping for warrants that cover multiple jurisdictions in a nationwide investigation
Sneak-and-peek searches that allow investigators to enter a suspect's property without informing the suspect until much later
Roving wiretaps that authorize law enforcement to eavesdrop on a suspect's conversations over any telephone (instead of the requirement that officials specify the exact phone number they want to tap).
Noting that the Patriot Act won't expire until well after the presidential election, the John Kerry campaign accused Mr. Bush of posturing for votes. "The president is using the Patriot Act to distract attention from the fact that his administration has done a woefully inadequate job of fixing the intelligence system," said campaign spokesman Phil Singer. "If he were truly interested in implementing reforms to improve intelligence sharing, he wouldn't be playing election-year politics with the Patriot Act."
Although he voted for the Patriot Act in its original form, Sen. Kerry has said he is concerned with the way the act is implemented, and he supports the sunsetting of many provisions. Ironically enough, he has allies not only among reliably liberal groups like the ACLU, but also among conservative organizations ranging from the Free Congress Foundation to the Eagle Forum.
"Congress must look skeptically" at efforts to extend the Patriot Act, says David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union. "Civil-liberty infringements happen in times of war and times of national crisis. The problem is that a lot of what is put in place during those times is liable to remain in place and permanently alter the government-citizen relationship."
Mr. Bush, however, brushed off criticism from both the right and the left. "It doesn't make sense," he said of the argument that the need for the Patriot Act has passed. "The terrorists declared war on the United States, and Congress must give law enforcement the tools necessary to protect the American people."