WASHINGTON, DC – House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (MD) spoke on the House Floor today in support of the FISA Amendments Act. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“Mr. Speaker, let me first say that every single Member of this body wants to enable our intelligence community to detect, disrupt and eliminate terrorists who have no compunction about planning and participating in the mass killings of innocent men, women and children.
“We can – and we will – prevail in the war on terror.
“However, victory against those who preach death and destruction does not require the abandonment of the ideals and principles upon which our nation was founded.
“Our basic duties as Members of Congress – protecting the American people, while protecting the values that define us as Americans – are not mutually exclusive.
“Indeed, they can be – and they must be – mutually reinforcing.
“The legislation we consider today – the FISA Amendments Act – accomplishes these goals. And, I am proud to support it.
“This bill is a compromise – taking the strengths of the Senate-passed bill and marrying them with the best of the RESTORE Act, which this House passed last November.
“Regrettably, the White House and Congressional Republicans refused to accept our offer to sit down at the negotiating table and work out our differences.
“Nonetheless, this bill represents a good-faith effort to address many of the legitimate concerns that have been raised about this modernization of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
“Among other things, this bill makes clear that no order is required for surveillance of foreign-to-foreign communications.
“It provides that – except in emergencies – the executive branch may not begin surveillance unless the FISA Court has approved targeting and minimization procedures designed to protect Americans.
“It explicitly authorizes the FISA Court to assess whether targeting and minimization procedures are being complied with.
“It prevents so-called ‘reverse targeting.’ That is, it bars the targeting of a person reasonably believed to be outside the United States for the purpose of targeting a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States.
“It clarifies that FISA is the exclusive means of conducting surveillance in the United States for foreign intelligence purposes.
“And wisely, this bill rejects the Administration’s demand that Congress grant blanket, retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies that assisted with the President’s warrantless surveillance program.
“Instead, the bill provides these companies with a process to present their defenses in secure proceedings in federal district court without the Administration using the ‘state secrets’ privilege to block those defenses from being raised.
“Let me remind my colleagues of the statement by Judge Vaughn Walker, the chief judge of the Northern District of California, in a case involving AT&T’s participation in this warrantless program.
“Judge Walker, a Republican appointee, wrote: ‘AT&T cannot seriously contend that a reasonable entity in its position could have believed that the alleged domestic dragnet was legal.’
“I submit that a reasonable – responsible – Congress would not seek to immunize conduct without knowing what conduct or misconduct it is immunizing.
“Finally, this bill includes a sunset of December 31, 2009, so that we can revisit this critical national security legislation and implement lessons learned by the bipartisan Commission – which is also proposed in this bill.
“Let me close by saying, I deeply regret that the Administration and some Members on the other side of the aisle have misrepresented the provisions – and the purpose – of this bill.
“If they believed their own rhetoric – that the expiration of the Protect America Act endangered our national security – then they must explain why they opposed a temporary extension of that act.
“Mr. Speaker, it is clear that the current Administration wants to circumvent and neuter the FISA Court – while trying to stampede this Congress into passing the Senate bill.
“This Congress owes the American people more than blind obeisance to the executive branch.
“This is a reasonable, thoughtful bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support it.”