Goodlatte Sees Surveillance Restrictions Passing Congress

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte said he supports a bill to let companies such as Facebook Inc. and Apple Inc. release statistics on data they turn over to the U.S. National Security Agency.

The companies want to publicly disclose how they respond to government orders for data on their customers and how many accounts are involved.

Those that cooperate “need to be able to stand up and say, ‘We’re doing the right thing here, and we’re protecting our customers, our consumers, the users of our services,’” Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend.

The legislation, proposed in response to revelations about NSA surveillance, would give companies that right. It would also overhaul the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews wiretap and other investigative requests, and prohibit the agency from collecting bulk phone records on millions of Americans, among other provisions.

“It very well could and should” pass, Goodlatte said. He said it was important to both protect civil liberties and to allow the government to continue gathering information on threats to the nation.

A bill similar to the one drafted by Representative James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, also has been proposed by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

At issue are controversial NSA programs revealed publicly in June. One involves the bulk collection of U.S. phone customer records and another the monitoring of Internet communications.

Holder Safe

In the interview, Goodlatte also said Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t about to be impeached even with attempts by some of his Republican colleagues to attempt that step.

“He’s not going to be impeached right now, that’s for sure,” Goodlatte said.

In June 2012, Holder became the first Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. The Republican-led House of Representatives cited him for failing to comply with a subpoena by not turning over documents related to a federal gun operation called “Fast and Furious.” It let illegally acquired weapons from the U.S. wind up at crime scenes in Mexico.

Republicans should remain focused on pursuing grievances through the court system, Goodlatte said.

“If we determine that there are impeachable offenses, we would look at that,” he said. “But at this point in time, we think that the process of holding him in contempt and that moving through the courts is where we should watch this.”

Executive Privilege

President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege with the documents at issue and declined to turn them over. Obama’s position is that the executive branch can’t be required by Congress to disclose confidential communications because their release would harm the operations of the White House.

Republicans have made the nation’s top law-enforcement officer one of their main targets in the Obama administration.

Holder and Republicans are still fighting over the documents, and both the White House and the attorney general have said the issue in the House was made for political theater rather than legitimate oversight.

Goodlatte also said changes to immigration laws may pass during this Congress, though not necessarily this year.

Obama has said he would make it a priority to push for passage of a new immigration law before the end of the year.

While the Democratic-led Senate passed an immigration bill on a bipartisan vote in June, the measure that would provide a path to legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. faces opposition from many Republicans in the House, where the party has a majority.

Legal Status

“What we are looking at is an appropriate legal status,” said Goodlatte, “a legal status that doesn’t advance somebody ahead of people who have done immigration legally and lawfully for generations is more appropriate.”

While Republicans remain opposed to creating a pathway to citizenship for immigrant workers, he emphasized, a bill that legalizes work status “could pass this Congress.”

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia have said the Senate’s comprehensive bill won’t be taken up. Instead, their party’s leaders intend to write the law in pieces. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers who’ve been working for four years toward an immigration overhaul has disbanded.

Goodlatte’s Judiciary Committee has passed four separate bills, including one to expand the use of electronic databases to screen new job applicants and one to create a new temporary guest worker program for the agriculture industry.

Democratic Support

“This is a step-by-step approach,” said Goodlatte. “I think that the process will have Democratic support as we move forward.”

With the full House unlikely to act on immigration this year, there will be a short opening for action next year before lawmakers turn to their 2014 re-election campaigns. That period could be dominated by fiscal feuds, including bills to fund the government and increase the nation’s borrowing limit.

Goodlatte voiced skepticism about the latest congressional attempt to strike a broad debt-reduction agreement. A bipartisan panel of 29 House and Senate members is working toward a self-imposed Dec. 13 deadline to find budget savings.

“I’m an optimist that we’ll eventually get to it,” he said. “But I worry that there will be more severe consequences before we get there.”

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