The White House is ready to roll out a very public defense of its "highly classified" NSA spy program. Next week, the President and top Administration officials will attempt to provide a daily headline with a series of events designed to "educate" the public on what the White House calls the necessity of NSA spying.
You'll see the President visit the suburban Washington, D.C. headquarters of the super secret NSA on Wednesday and other officials will make the government's case for spying in a few speeches. Since the secret spying was exposed by The New York Times in December and heavily debated everywhere else since, the President has fiercely defended his assertion that the ordered spying is within his presidential power even without court approval.
Now the public push. Why? It's about getting ahead of the now unavoidable public debate over whether the President went too far or even "broke the law," as his critics claim. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, Pa., has announced the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings next month to examine the legality of the program.
The NSA authorization allows the government, without obtaining a warrant, to listen-in on calls where one end of the conversation occurs inside the U.S. The NSA's mission is foreign intelligence gathering. The White House defends the program as "targeted and limited" involving suspected terrorists. Critics argue that domestic spying of any kind is a slippery slope that infringes on Americans' privacy.
While this White House often dismisses public polling as only a snapshot in time and argues that polling does not direct how it governs, the Administration more willingly takes comfort in what polls show on this issue. Officials here say they believe the American people back the President's decision on spying, citing in very general terms... polling. One official put it this way: "I know that because all you have to do is go and look at some of the recent surveys and they overwhelmingly show the American people want us to do everything in our power to protect them."
The ongoing debate hinges on defining that "power" with a campaign-style pitch ready for launch.