WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Saturday urged the U.S. Congress to renew the Patriot Act, the post-Sept. 11, 2001 law that beefs up law enforcement powers, as he sought to highlight his national security credentials.
The president sees his pledge to keep America safe as a cornerstone of his argument for re-election, but his image as a leader on fighting terror took a hit amid recent public hearings by the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks.
The actions of the president and some of his advisers have been called into question by critics such as his ex-counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who accused Bush of ignoring warnings.
"Key elements of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Some politicians in Washington act as if the threat to America will also expire on that schedule."
Although it was supported by a large majority of lawmakers when it came up for a vote in Congress in the weeks after the attacks, the Patriot Act has become controversial.
Opponents fear it may give federal agents too much power, for example to invade privacy with provisions such as those that make it easier to tap telephone conversations.
But the president accused those who would allow the law to lapse of having "willful blindness" to the terrorist threat.
The comment appeared to be an attack on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee who will challenge Bush in the November election.
Kerry voted for the Patriot Act. However, he has since been critical of it, saying there is a danger that the new powers for law enforcement will be abused by the Bush administration.
Bush will try to hammer home his message on national security next week, with speeches about the Patriot Act on Monday in Pennsylvania and Tuesday in Buffalo, New York.