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Bush Calls For Renewal of Patriot Act in State of the Union

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Bush called for a renewal of the controversial Patriot Act saying, “key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule.” We speak with the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. [includes transcript]

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StoryJan 21, 2004DEMOCRACY NOW! SPECIAL: Behind Bush’s State of the Union
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are also joined by Anthony Romero, with the American Civil Liberties Union. We’re going to hear a clip of what George Bush had to say about the Patriot Act, among other things, and we’ll hear more in the next segment about his stance on gay marriage, and we’ll talk further about the economy at home. But first, George Bush on the Patriot Act:

PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: Inside the United States where the war began, we must continue to give our Homeland Security and law enforcement personnel every tool they need to defend us. And one of those essential tools is the Patriot Act, which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. Our law enforcement needs this vital legislation to protect our citizens. You need to renew the Patriot Act.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush in his State of the Union Address. Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union joining us on the line. Your response, it’s good to have you with us.

ANTHONY ROMERO: My pleasure. What’s remarkable with the way that President Bush framed the Patriot Act last night is how he continues to sound many of the same chords that John Ashcroft sounded in his failed road show in defense of the Patriot Act. He talked about the needs for these essential tools, if you will, and that without these tools, the war on terror would be lost, this is exactly the same messages that John Ashcroft endeavored to present to the American public as he went from city to city while often meeting great hostility and great numbers of mounting opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike across the country. And what’s clear to us now is that clearly the President is worried about the status of the Patriot Act. If he wasn’t worried it wouldn’t be in his Presidential State of the Union Address. It’s clear to him and increasingly to those in the White House that the Patriot Act went too far, too fast, and that they used the events of September 11 as a way to push through a highly ideological, a highly partisan law enforcement agenda with very little input from members of Congress, and the Press.

What I found interesting in the clip that you even just showed is that the only part of the State Of the Union Address I watched the whole thing again last night and read the transcript of it this morning. The only place where you saw a little bit of visible dissent was when he talked about the fact that the Patriot Act would expire in 2005. All of a sudden, you heard this applause from members within Congress saying, “Yes, it will expire in 2005”. That shows you that within Congress, you have an enormous amount of dissent on the Patriot’s unilateral support for the Patriot Act. It’s notable, for instance, that out of Idaho, Congressman Butch Otter, a Republican, has been one of the chief sponsors of a piece of legislation that would repeal a part of the Patriot Act. When that bill passed the house, he was joined by more than 113 or so Republicans, that the criticism of the Patriot Act comes not just from the Democratic Party and the ACLU and others, it comes from people like Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr and Dick Armey and Phyllis Shlaughly. It shows there is enormous opposition even within the President’s Republican Party. I think the speech last night was to silence those who disagree with him in his party, in way of continuing the sounding of the messages that John Ashcroft failed to communicate to the American public in his road show earlier this year.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union on the line with us. We’re also joined in the studio by Brendan Faye, a gay community organizer and co-chair of the Civil Marriage Trail Project. Anthony Romero, interestingly, President Bush did not call for a Constitutional amendment. There is an increasing movement for that, but he is being opposed by many conservatives when it comes to that issue.

ANTHONY ROMERO: That’s right, Amy. What’s interesting is he still left the door open for that possibility. What you found is that much of the president’s remarks on gay marriage really echoed the same remarks he made around the PATRIOT Act. He again is just trying to draw some very clear lines around the law and the effect on basic rights. What you find here is that the president really is using the election as a bully pulpit to push through a very ideological and partisan agenda.

What’s also interesting is that in both areas of the law, you find the Bush Administration with outright hostility to the judiciary, which is remarkable. That has been the number one battle with the PATRIOT Act and the issues around the PATRIOT Act, about submitting executive branch action to judicial review. That’s why there were ironic parts when you talk about bringing terrorists to justice. It’s laughable in some instances. In fact, the Bush administration has fought every step of the way when we have tried to assert a due process, a system of checks and balances and rights for individuals charged with potential terrorism. I mean, look at the Guantanamo bay case. They fought it tooth and nail, going to the supreme court. The same issue is played out on gay marriage. Now he’s taking a shot at the activist judges, quote, unquote. And where he leaves open the possibility, if necessary, of amending the Constitution.

As you mentioned, Amy, he is already seeing enormous amount of opposition from within his own Republican Party just as he is under the PATRIOT Act. There is Republicans and individuals on the right wing, especially the libertarian wing of the Republican Party who disagree with him, who think that the idea of possibly amending the Constitution to discriminate, of amending the Constitution to deny basic rights, is just wrong-headed. That we don’t tamper with the Constitution, that the judges have an important role in interpreting and enforcing the nation’s laws, and that neither Congress nor the president can unilaterally super ride or override the actions of the deliberations of Congress. I think what is just also truly laughable when they talk about the fact this is a president that’s tried to show compassion and someone who has showed a concern for social issues, I mean, let’s remind ourselves that marriage is a commitment. It’s about sharing of love and trust and compromise and that when two adults make this personal, private choice in their own lives to from a lifelong commitment, who is it for the president or anyone this country to deny their rights to marry just because of who they are.

AMY GOODMAN: Anthony Romero, ACLU, Executive Director.

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