updated 1/4/2006 8:33:30 AM ET 2006-01-04T13:33:30

President Bush is taking advantage of a winter congressional recess to lobby for permanent extension of the terror-fighting USA Patriot Act and rap lawmakers who thwarted it in a rush to recess last month.

“The enemy has not gone away. They’re still there,” said Bush. “And I expect Congress to understand that we’re still at war, and they got to give us the tools necessary to win this war.”

The president was to press his case Wednesday to a supportive audience at the Pentagon, where he was being briefed on progress in Iraq.

During a White House meeting with federal prosecutors Tuesday, Bush said lawmakers must act on a permanent renewal of the Patriot Act, which expanded the government’s surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

Noting that the Patriot Act was approved overwhelmingly not long after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, he said political considerations now were getting in the way.

“When it came time to renew the act, for partisan reasons, in my mind, people have not stepped up” to renew the act, he said.

Many key provisions of the law were to expire Dec. 31. Amid a debate over whether the act sufficiently protects civil liberties, most Senate Democrats and a few Republicans united against legislation that would have made several of the expiring provisions permanent while extending others for four years.

One-month extension
In a move the White House adamantly opposed but later accepted, Congress approved a one-month extension of the law in its current form to allow the contentious debate to continue, which will take place when Congress reassembles later this month. The new measure expires Feb. 3.

Later, outside the West Wing, prosecutors cited several cases in which the Patriot Act had played a crucial role, from staging an undercover sting on California weapons dealers attempting to sell Stinger missiles to securing convictions of major terrorist financiers in New York.

“We use it each and every day to protect our country against terrorists and criminals,” said Ken Wainstein, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said Bush should spend more time negotiating about the Patriot Act with Democrats and others on Capitol Hill and less on “staged meetings with hand-picked participants” at the White House.

Among the provisions the renewal would make permanent are those that allow roving wiretaps so that investigators can listen in on any telephone and tap any computer they think a terrorist might use.

The debate over the Patriot Act has been intensified by Bush’s acknowledgment that after the 9/11 attacks he authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop — without warrants — on international calls and e-mails of Americans and others inside the United States with suspected ties to al-Qaida or its affiliates.

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