Republicans favored giving the administration two weeks to answer a list of questions sent by the chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., seeking an explanation of the authority under which the surveillance was conducted.
The debate was less about the spying program itself than about Congress role in placing checks and balances on the Administration.
"With all due respect, I dont think this committee has taken its oversight responsibilities seriously," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "It doesnt matter to al Qaeda whether we go to a [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court or not. It does matter to all of us whether we uphold our own Constitution, whether we have checks and balances."
Several Democrats, including Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., took Sensenbrenner to task for sending questions to the administration rather than conducting an investigation into the NSA surveillance, arguing that written responses from the executive branch frequently are less than satisfying.
"This is a profound Constitutional issue," said Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass. "It does go to the separation of powers and the relationship between the branches. This is an issue of such consequence that we deserve to have multiple hearings. We dont want to have a legacy that we sat here as props."
Several Republicans maintained that the President has powers in times of war to authorize surveillance beyond the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Additionally, some argued that hearings and other opportunities for the full committee to review the issue create a danger of national security information being leaked.
Cautioning that if terrorists achieve their goals, there will likely be a nuclear bomb detonated in the United States, and possibly in Washington, D.C., Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., said Sensenbrenner "has acted in good faith and with wisdom," in sending the letter.
Sensenbrenner said that if the response to the written questions is "irrelevant or non-responsive or evasive," he will ask the Administration to submit more complete answers.