By Adam Entous
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Brushing aside criticism of their aggressive tactics in the war on terrorism, President George W. Bush
and top officials accused Senate Democrats on Wednesday of putting the United States at risk by blocking the reauthorization of key
Democrats countered that Bush and the Republican leadership in the Senate were to blame for refusing to temporarily extend the
Patriot Act provisions in order to give lawmakers more time to negotiate a compromise to better protect civil liberties.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said: "What is wrong is for the White House to manipulate this into a partisan fight for its
partisan political advantage."
With the legislation in limbo as Patriot Act provisions are set to expire on December 31, Bush came before cameras to accuse senators
of endangering America by blocking a law vital to the fight "against brutal killers."
Bush, however, made no mention of the four senators in his Republican Party -- Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Larry Craig of Idaho,
John Sununu of New Hampshire and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska -- who joined most Democrats last week in blocking the bill.
"This obstruction is inexcusable," he said of Senate Democrats, who are using a procedural maneuver known as a filibuster to block
renewal of provisions of the Patriot Act, a centerpiece of Bush's response to the September 11 attacks.
Bush singled out Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada for attack, saying he recently "boasted about killing the Patriot Act."
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff also issued dire warnings.
"If the impasse continues, when Americans wake up on January 1, we will not be as safe," Gonzales told reporters at the Justice Department.
Chertoff agreed: "We're going to wake up on January 1 and we will have left some of the most important weapons against terror in
the cupboard, unavailable to be used by our front line defenders."
The battle comes as Democrats and Republicans seek congressional hearings into Bush's decision to order spying without warrants on
Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists.
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that federal judge James Robertson resigned from the court that oversees government
surveillance in intelligence cases in protest of Bush's authorization of the domestic spying program.
Gonzales said he did not know why Robertson resigned from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that oversees government
surveillance. "I don't know the reason. I'm not going to speculate why a judge would step down from the FISA court," he said.
Despite Bush's call for ending the Patriot Act filibuster, his Republican allies in the Senate appeared ready to let key provisions of the
law expire on December 31, as scheduled.
With time running out, 52 of the 100 members of the Republican-led Senate sent a leader to Majority Leader Bill Frist on Wednesday,
urging him to allow a vote on a temporary extension. Signers included eight Republicans, one independent and 43 Democrats.
But Frist rejected the request and stuck to his position that a Democratic-led filibuster should end so the Senate could approve the
The provisions up for renewal include ones involving wiretaps, access to library and business records and information-sharing by
law enforcement and intelligence authorities.
The Senate could take another crack at renewing the provisions as soon as Congress begins a new year in January, congressional
"The terrorist threat is not going to expire at the end of this year," Bush said before departing the White House to meet with injured
troops at a Naval hospital in suburban Bethesda, Maryland.
Democrats have proposed a three-month extension to provide time to resolve differences.
But the White House and Republican congressional leaders have rejected such a move, saying the proposed renewal would make
improvements in civil liberties. Critics have countered that the improvements are insufficient.
(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert, Jim Wolf, Tom Ferraro and Jim Vicini)