WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to salvage a massive surveillance program, President Barack Obama faced congressional critics of the National Security Agency’s collection of Americans’ telephone records Thursday, as snowballing concerns made new limitations on the intelligence effort appear increasingly likely.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden joined lawmakers on both sides of the issue for an Oval Office meeting designed to stem the bleeding of public support and show Obama was serious about engaging. Among the participants were the NSA’s most vigorous congressional supporters — the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate intelligence panels — alongside its most stern critics, including Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado.
The lawmakers departed the rainy White House grounds without speaking to reporters. But in interviews later, they said there was a consensus that the surveillance efforts are suffering from perception problems that have undercut trust among the American people.
“There is openness to making changes,” said Rep. C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, top Republican on the Senate’s intelligence panel and a strong NSA defender, said Obama and the lawmakers didn’t agree to take specific steps but brought up a number of proposals that will be fleshed out over the August congressional recess.
“A lot of ideas were thrown out,” Chambliss said. “Nothing was concluded.”
In an interview, Wyden said he and Udall had sought to convince Obama of the urgency of addressing rising concerns. He said he proposed strengthening the government’s ability to get emergency authorization to collect an individual’s phone records, so that preemptive collection of everyone’s records would no longer be necessary.
“I felt that the president was open to ideas, and we’re going to make sure he has some,” Wyden said after returning to Capitol Hill.