Is there any position the Republican candidate for president doesn't change from one airing to the next?
On Wednesday, a McCain campaign spokesperson outlined a surprisingly reasonable position on whether to hold telcoms accountable for illegally spying on millions of Americans. Then the McCain campaign claimed to have made a mistake, saying the report "incorrectly represented" his position, which now is that "companies who assist the government" should be granted amnesty in the pending FISA legislation.
The revised position is difficult to reconcile with McCain's previous stance vis a vis the NSA warrantless wiretapping program. When the New York Times revealed the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping program, McCain told MSNBC “Theoretically, I obviously wouldn’t like it."
When interviewed by CBS News, McCain was asked how he would feel if subjected to surveillance: CBS: "Well Senator, how do you personally feel about it. Not only are you a lawmaker, you're also a citizen. If you are on a phone call to somewhere overseas and you found out the government was listening in, how would you feel about that?" McCain responded: "In my case, or any other innocent American's case, obviously I wouldn't like that, just because of the privacy concerns....
In telecom litigation onging by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, AT&T is being sued on behalf of these "innocent Americans," all of whom have no connection to terrorism. Speaking to Matt Lauer on NBC's Today show that same month, McCain agreed "it is up to a court of law to find out if someone broke the law here and if punishment should be handed out." Immunity for the telecommunications companies, however, would prevent the court from ruling on the legality of the president's surveillance program.
More recently, McCain clarified his position on the underlying legal issues with The Boston Globe: "Does the president have inherent powers under the Constitution to conduct surveillance for national security purposes without judicial warrants, regardless of federal statutes?" the reporter asked McCain.
"There are some areas where the statutes don’t apply, such as in the surveillance of overseas communications. Where they do apply, however, I think that presidents have the obligation to obey and enforce laws that are passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, no matter what the situation is," McCain said. The Boston Globe reporter replied, "Okay, so is that a no, in other words, federal statute trumps inherent power in that case, warrantless surveillance?" "I don't think the president has the right to disobey any law," McCain said.
The Arizona senator previously has rejected the Bush administration's legal rationale for the warrantless surveillance program, sympathized with the millions of innocent Americans caught up in the NSA spying and claimed the Courts should have the chance to determine whether the law was broken. Given these statements, it is surprising and disappointing that McCain now supports the Bush administration's efforts to prevent courts from ruling on the claims of innocent Americans in telecom litigation.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Joe Biden said the FISA statute "made clear the exclusive legal steps the President must take in order to conduct national security surveillance. President Bush chose to ignore the law and now it seems Senator McCain will continue this policy," Biden said. "Once again – there is no daylight between President Bush and Sen. McCain."
"We all share the goal of capturing the terrorists and protecting national security and we can do that without violating the privacy of the American people," he added. "Like President Bush, Sen. McCain is presenting the American people with a false choice—national security or civil liberties. We need a President who understands that we can have both. It’s what our values and our Constitution demands."
Meanwhile, a simple solution to the warrantless wiretapping debate exists: Congress can extend the orders established last year under the PAA and due to expire in August for a period of nine months or a year, letting the next administration and Congress resolve the issue.