President Barack Obama on Friday will try to put the ongoing surveillance controversy behind him, laying out reforms to U.S. intelligence-gathering activities aimed at reassuring Americans that his administration will right the balance between civil liberties and national security.
But Obama’s powers have significant limits.
Many of the key reforms he’s expected to endorse — including changes to the National Security Agency’s practice of gathering information on telephone calls made to, from or within the U.S. — will require congressional action. Like the public — and seemingly the president himself — lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are divided on what needs fixing and how to do it.
“If he punts the ball 16 blocks, all hell’s liable to break loose on the Hill,” said former NSA Director Michael Hayden. “There will be people who will be voting against it because Obama’s reform plan doesn’t go far enough and people voting against it because it doesn’t defend us enough and other people voting against it because it outsources espionage.”
It’s another challenge for a White House eager to clear the decks for issues that aides want to highlight in Obama’s State of the Union address later this month, such as income inequality and immigration.