President George W. Bush Friday, as expected, attacked a federal court ruling that found his warrantless wiretapping program unconstitutional, declaring that opponents “do not understand the nature of the world in which we live, ” but at the same time he avoided the Constitutional questions raised in the judge’s determination.
“I strongly disagree with that decision, strongly disagree,” Bush said, striking his finger on a podium to underscore his point. “That’s why I instructed the Justice Department to appeal immediately, and I believe our appeals will be upheld.”
Yet legal scholars say the ruling by U.S. District Judge Anna Diggs Taylor is found and based on Constitutional law, something the President ignores in his tirade.
Taylor, in Detroit on Thursday, was the first to find the National Security Agency surveillance program unconstitutional. The program involves monitoring international phone calls and e-mails to and from the United States involving people with suspected ties to terrorists.
“If al-Qaida is calling in to the United States, we want to know why they’re calling,” Bush said.
Critics say the surveillance program skirts the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court warrants for domestic eavesdropping. The administration has argued that obtaining warrants from a secret court set up under FISA is a time-consuming process unsuited for the government’s fast-moving war on terror.
The judge said the government, in defending the program, appeared to be saying the president had the “inherent power” to violate laws of Congress.
“It was never the intent of the framers to give the president such unfettered control,” Taylor wrote in a 43-page opinion. “… There are no hereditary Kings in America and no powers not created by the Constitution. So all ‘inherent powers’ must derive from that Constitution.”
On other issues, Bush said it would take the world time to view the war between Israel and Hezbollah as a loss for the Islamic militant group.
“The first reaction, of course, of Hezbollah and its supporters is, declare victory,” Bush said. “I guess I would have done the same thing if I were them, but sometimes it takes people a while to come to the sober realization of what forces create stability and which don’t. Hezbollah is a force of instability.”
Bush also expressed some disappointment with France’s contribution to an expanded peacekeeping force in Lebanon.
France had been expected to make a significant new contribution that would form the backbone of the expanded force. But French President Jacques Chirac disappointed the United Nations and other countries by announcing France would contribute just 200 combat engineers to its current 200-member contingent in Lebanon.
“France has said they will send some troops,” the president said. “We hope they’ll send more.”
Members of Bush’s economic team stood alongside the president as he spoke under bright sunshine at the Camp David helipad. Among attendees were Vice President Dick Cheney, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, National Economic Council Director Allan Hubbard and White House budget chief Rob Portman.
The meeting came at a time when only 37 percent of Americans support Bush’s handling of the economy, according to AP-Ipsos polling in early August. It’s also just weeks before congressional midterm elections that will determine whether Republicans continue to control the House and the Senate.
Bush declared the economy solid and strong because of tax cuts his administration pushed through Congress. He rattled off a series of economic indicators, including the nation’s 4.8 percent jobless rate in July and 4 percent annual economic growth rate through the first half of the year.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took issue with Bush’s upbeat comments on the economy, saying, “President Bush may think the economy is moving forward, but many hard working Americans are stuck living paycheck to paycheck.
“Under President Bush and the Republican Congress, the economic situation for too many Americans is going in the wrong direction,” said the California Democrat. Since Bush took office, she said, “real median family income has dropped by $1,700 while families are paying $3,200 more in household costs.”
Bush did not mention that the July unemployment rate had inched up from 4.6 percent in June, reflecting a slowdown in job creation that reflects weaker economic growth. And while the gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 5.6 percent in the first quarter, it slowed to just 2.5 percent in the April-June quarter.
On Friday, a University of Michigan survey showed consumer confidence fell sharply in early August to the lowest level in 10 months as Americans were rattled by new terrorism concerns and gasoline prices above $3 per gallon.
Bush did not mention the jump in gasoline prices, although he did discuss the need to invest in new energy technologies.
Paulson, speaking to reporters later, said the team spent much time talking about long-term challenges such as changing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in view of the pending retirement of 78 million baby boomers.
“We think it is quite possible to come up with a fix that is quite doable,” Paulson said of reforming the government programs. “The question is whether we can get the support of Congress to get something done.”
AP Staff Writer Deb Reichmann and Economics Writer Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press