Don’t Back Down

Today’s Wall Street Journal includes a piece by Siobhan Gorman that reports that Bush is pushing Congressional Dems to come to the negotiating table on FISA and that he’s willing to make some concessions from his previous hard-line of retroactive immunity and expanded executive powers.

Over the two-week spring recess, administration officials contacted Democratic leaders to suggest they were open to compromise on updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “We definitely want to get it done,” said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. “We’ve had some initial conversations with Congress about the need to get FISA reform done quickly.” He added that Mr. Bush still prefers the Senate measure, which the White House negotiated with Senate Democrats.

In addition to rejecting immunity for companies, House Democrats want tougher judicial oversight of any eavesdropping effort. People familiar with the matter said the White House has floated ideas to find common ground but hasn’t offered a formal compromise proposal. Officials in both parties said judicial oversight might be an easier area for the administration to make concessions.

The White House’s more conciliatory posture reflects a recognition that the Bush administration’s leverage on national-security matters has slipped since this past summer, a top Republican congressional aide said. “There’s a recognition that if they’re actually going to get a product they can support, there’s going to have to be some new level of engagement,” the aide said.

It would be a profound mistake with repercussions lasting long, long past the expiration of President Bush’s term in office if congressional Democrats took this olive branch and negotiated FISA legislation that was acceptable to the Bush administration. The Bush administration want to negotiate now because they know that unless they get Democrats to deal with them now, they won’t get anything from Congress. This is a recognition that Democrats have been able to stall their push for retroactive immunity since last October and there is no resolution satisfactory to the Bush administration in sight.

For once, Democrats have power. Negotiating a “compromise” with Bush now would undercut the little power we have accrued in our efforts to defend the rule of law. There can be no compromise when it comes to expanding executive powers under this President, nor can their be a compromise when it comes to actions that strike against the rule of law.

Democrats must sit on their hands now and not extend them to President Bush. They should wait out the end of his term, then flex muscle in January 2009 under a Democratic president. If McCain is elected, that’s when we should be forced to consider negotiations. But to do it now just because Bush is asking nicely would be pure folly.

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