Falling in Line on Terror Surveillance

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Sometimes in politics, you have to listen for the dog that doesn't bark.

And this week, it sounds to me like there's a big, shaggy dog not barking over the President's controversial terrorist surveillance program.

When we last left this story, Republicans were scrambling to come up with a legislative fix for the unauthorized domestic collection operation, in part to prevent a broader backlash against the program in Congress. Leading the way was Sen. Mike DeWine, who proposes to create a special subcommittee to review the program and all its details every 45 days.

But now that lawmakers have begun to make the trip to Ft. Meade, Md., to be briefed on the National Seucrity Agency's terrorist surveillance program, it looks increasingly clear that Democrats at least aren't going to argue for its elimination. Like the Republicans, they appear much more interested in finding a way to legalize it.

Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, already supports the program. She wants it grounded better in the law, but she isn't calling for its end. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi takes in effect the same position: "What she is saying is that you need to follow the law when you do this critical work," explained a spokesman.

Three months after the New York Times broke the story outlining the program, it now appears that Democrats aren't unhappy about what Bush did; they just don't like the way he did it. Even Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, who proposed to censure the President for his handling of the matter — and generated some unhappiness in his own party for doing so — has so far stopped short of saying the program should be eliminated.

If it ever comes to a vote, DeWine's measure creating a new legal authority for the program may not get a lot of Democratic votes. But few Democrats, if any, will ever vote for a measure to get rid of the program entirely.

And all that helps explain why President Bush raised the political stakes on the issue in his press conference this week. "I did notice that nobody from the Democratic Party has actually stood up and called for getting rid of the terrorist surveillance program," he said in his Tuesday session with reporters. "You know, if that's what they believe, if people in the party believe that, then they ought to stand up and say it."

On that point, there is just silence.