updated 12/20/2005 3:42:27 PM ET 2005-12-20T20:42:27

The U.S. Senate isn't really the scene for warm and fuzzy holiday tidings lately. As senators continue to fight over reauthorizing the Patriot Act, among other things, the Democrats' drumbeat to investigate the White House's approval of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency without court approval is growing louder and louder.

President Bush was unapologetic about his decision in Monday's East Room press conference. Today, Vice President Cheney echoed the president's sentiments, telling the Associated Press aboard Air Force Two that a backlash over the story, if any, "is going to be against those who are suggesting somehow that we shouldn't take these steps to defend the country." Read more of the veep's in-flight thoughts here .

On Hardball tonight, Andrea Mitchell, NBC's chief foreign affairs correspondent who is sitting in for Chris this week, will talk with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) about the eavesdropping argument.

Speaking after the president's Monday presser, Levin, ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee and a member of the Select Intelligence Committee, said, "[The president] can't just simply use the necessity to move quickly as an excuse to bypass the law which we put in place, which is the true check on the executive power: the laws that Congress passed, including the FISA law." The full transcript of his reaction is here.

Cornyn, who sits on the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees, accused the New York Times on Sunday of endangering national security by running its initial report on the NSA's surveillance. Read more on his comments here.

Cornyn also has an op-ed on the Patriot Act in today's Washington Times.

Also on the show tonight, former Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who was chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee when the president authorized the NSA activity, will talk with Andrea about what he knew and what he could and could not do with that knowledge back then.

By the way, check out Hardblogger War Council member .

And Hardball's David Shuster will have the latest on reports that FBI counterterrorism investigators have been tracking the activities of American civil rights, environmental, antiwar, animal rights, and other sorts of groups. The Washington Post's Spencer Hsu had a report on it today in case you missed it.

Pundit/Professor/U.S. News Editor-at-Large David "Four Administrations" Gergen and Newsweek's Jonathan Alter also will join Andrea to talk about the political implications of the surveillance stories. Alter reported Monday night that the president had "summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running" the NSA eavesdropping story two weeks ago. Read Alter's story here .

And don't miss Andrea's conversation with ABC News' Barbara Walters, who will talk about her special report on ABC's 20/20 called "Heaven - Where Is It? How Do We Get There?" You can learn more about it here:

Here are some things you might not have read yet today:
-- MSNBC relays word that the vice president cut his Mideast tour short
-- AP has more on why the veep may be headed to the Senate for a budget vote
-- AP reports a federal judge knocked down "intelligent design" in public schools today
-- NBC's First Read (last chance until 2006!)

Brooke Brower compiled the "Hardball Briefing" in Washington, D.C. Watch 'Hardball' each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC. 

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