Pelosi Explains Her FISA Vote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) explained that she supported the rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because it provided civil liberties protections and a constraint on executive power, not because of the retroactive immunity it will give to telecom companies.

Pelosi said in a speech on the House floor Friday that the changes will help with gathering intelligence that's needed to keep troops safe and able to do their job.

"Good intelligence is necessary for us to know the plans of the terrorist and to defeat those plans," she said. "So we can't go without a bill. That's just simply not an option. But to have a bill we must have a bill that does not violate the Constitution of the United States and this bill does not. "

She also added that the bill increases congressional oversight and transparency of intelligence gathering and makes clear that a president does not have the constitutional authority to alter FISA requirements. President Bush had argued he had the constitutional right to conduct his domestic warrantless wiretapping program.

"[W]hat this bill reaffirms is that the FISA law is the authority for collecting foreign intelligence," Pelosi said. "There is no inherent authority of the president to do whatever he wants. This is a democracy; it is not a monarchy."

The bill passed the House, 293 to 193. The Senate is expected to take up the bill next week.

Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) are taking criticism from liberal activists, who have said that the White House got the better end of the deal. The critics had hoped that the Democratic leadership would not grant the companies immunity from lawsuits for participating in President Bush's domestic warrantless wiretapping program.

Pelosi said in her speech that she disagreed with the immunity provisions in the bill. Under the legislation, companies who participated in the wiretapping program will be exempt from lawsuits if a federal district judge determines that the Bush administration gave written directives to the companies authorizing them to engage in the wiretaps.

"Those companies have not lived up to the standards expected by the American people," she said. "I don't think today is any cause of celebration for them. They come out of this with a taint."

She added, however, that she didn't believe the lawsuits would have achieved their aim, "which is to learn the truth about the President's Terrorist Surveillance Program and give us the information we need to make sure that never happens again."

Instead, she believes a report on the program by the inspector general will uncover that information.