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EAVESDROPPING BATTLE HEADS FOR SHOWDOWN

Congress, Bush spar over the power to eavesdrop on foreign suspects.

Congress and the White House struggled Friday over expanding authority to eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists in a showdown over national security.

The House rejected a Democratic proposal opposed by President Bush that would give him that authority for only four months. The largely party-line vote in favor of the bill was 218-207, short of the two-thirds majority needed under rules limiting debate.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, prepared to concede to a bill supported by the White House limiting that authority to six months. It also would allow the director of national intelligence and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to carry out the expanded eavesdropping for four months before a court signs off on it.

The House vote left the bill's fate in doubt.

Bush earlier Friday coupled his demand for legislation with a threat to veto any bill that his intelligence director deemed unable "to prevent an attack on the country."

The Bush administration began pressing for changes to the law after a recent ruling by the special court overseeing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Acts that barred the government from eavesdropping on foreign suspects whose messages were being routed through U.S. communications carriers, including Internet sites.

Negotiators spent Friday trying to narrow differences between what Bush wanted and Democrats' demand for court approval before intelligence agents get expanded authority to tap into the overseas phone calls and Internet traffic of suspected terrorists.

Current law requires court review of government surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United States. It does not specifically address the government's ability to intercept messages believed to come from foreigners overseas - what the White House calls a significant gap in preventing attacks planned abroad.

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