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Bush: Secret wiretaps won't stop

President accuses senators of 'playing politics with Patriot Act'

President Bush talks to reporters Monday at the White House.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


George W. Bush
White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush defended using government wiretaps without court authorization to monitor terrorism suspects and urged the Senate to renew the USA Patriot Act during his year-end news conference Monday.

The president said he intends to continue using secret international wiretaps to monitor activities of people in the United States suspected of having connections to al Qaeda.

"To save American lives we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks," Bush said during the event, in the East Room of the White House. (Watch Bush defend using secret wiretaps -- 2:23

"I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely." (Transcript)

Senate Democrats expressed strong disagreement with the president.

"I'm stunned by the president's rationale," said Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island. He said Bush's justification for the eavesdropping was "without merit."

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold said Bush's comments represent a "retreat from who we are and who we should be" as a nation. (Full story)

Democratic House leaders are calling for an independent panel to investigate the legality of the program. (Full story)

USA Patriot Act

Discussing another issue related to the Bush administration's fight against terrorism, the president said "senators who are filibustering the Patriot Act must stop their delaying tactics, and the Senate must vote to reauthorize the Patriot Act."

Friday, the Senate refused to reauthorize significant portions of the Patriot Act after critics complained they infringed too much on Americans' privacy and liberty.

"In the war on terror, we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment," Bush said.

The bill's Senate supporters were not able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster by Feingold and Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, and their allies. (Full story)

Monday, Bush referred to possible clues to the planned terrorist attacks that went unnoticed before September 11, 2001.

"The Patriot Act helps us connect the dots. And now the United States Senate is going to let this bill expire -- not the Senate; a minority of senators.

"It is inexcusable to say, on the one hand, connect the dots, and not give us a chance to do so," Bush said.

"I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer.

"If people want to play politics with the Patriot Act, it's ... not in the best interests of the country," the president said.

Iraq intelligence: 'I felt the same way'

Bush spoke the morning after he delivered a prime time television address that focused on the U.S.-led Iraq war.

In Sunday's address, Bush said U.S. forces are making "steady gains" in the nearly 3-year-old Iraq war and urged Americans not to "give in to despair." (Full story)

Bush said during his news conference Monday that he understands why people are angry that prewar intelligence about Iraq was wrong.

"You say, 'Well, wait a minute: Everybody thought there was weapons of mass destruction; there weren't any.' I felt the same way."

More than 2,100 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the invasion, which Bush and top aides argued was necessary to strip Iraq of chemical and biological weapons and efforts to develop a nuclear weapon. No such weapons were found once the government of Saddam Hussein collapsed in April 2003.

The Sunday night address was the latest in a series of speeches meant to shore up declining public support for the war. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll last week found 59 percent disapproved of the president's handling of the conflict. (Full story)

'I've got to do a better job'

Bush also commented on negative reaction to the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina -- some of which accused the president of neglecting New Orleans residents, many of whom are black.

"You know, one of the most hurtful things I can hear is ... 'Bush doesn't care about African-Americans,' for example," he said.

"First of all, it's not true. And secondly ... I believe that -- obviously -- I've got to do a better job of communicating, I guess, to certain folks. Because my job is to say to people, 'We're all equally American, and the American opportunity applies to you just as much as somebody else.' And so I will continue to do my best to reach out."

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