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Hastert defends wiretapping at local GOP dinner

Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, made an unscheduled appearance at the DeKalb County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday. Chronicle photos CURTIS CLEGG
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano, made an unscheduled appearance at the DeKalb County Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner on Saturday. Chronicle photos CURTIS CLEGG

DeKALB - Speaker Dennis Hastert provided a strident defense of a controversial warrantless wiretapping program Saturday while drawing comparisons between two of his party's most revered former presidents and the office's current occupant. In an unscheduled appearance before about 175 people at the DeKalb County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner, Hastert said that since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush and Congress have been committed to protecting Americans. And &#8220sometimes to do that you have to do some fairly extraordinary things,” he said, such as listen in on possible terrorist-related communications. Since it was publicly revealed late last year, the Bush administration's program to monitor, without warrants, calls or other personal communication between individuals in the United States and foreign countries has drawn fire from Democrats, civil libertarians and some Republicans. But Hastert, R-Plano, made clear that he was not among them. &#8220If you're a foreign national” and interested in harming Americans, he said, &#8220then you better watch out because we'll do everything we can to stop you.” Hastert, whose 14th District includes all but a northern slice of DeKalb County, said Lincoln also took a number of &#8220extraordinary” actions in his day. He also suggested that Bush's foreign policy has followed along a path set by Ronald Reagan, who was ridiculed when he challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin wall and end communism. It was the &#8220the intellectuals of the world, the people who look down their nose ... the people I sometimes think run the European Union” who snickered at Reagan's &#8220cowboy” diplomacy, Hastert said. But because of Reagan, many more are free, he said. &#8220We are doing the same thing,” Hastert argued, in places like Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Hastert also defended the administration's record on the economy, which, &#8220if you read the newspapers, they don't tell you about it.” He pointed to consistent growth in the economy, record-high home ownership rates and low unemployment. Hastert took the stage before keynote speaker Andy McKenna, the state's GOP chairman. In a state in which both houses of the General Assembly and the governorship are held by Democrats, McKenna said a return by Republicans to grassroots organizing was key to any future electoral success. &#8220We as a party ... got to do better at knocking on doors,” he said. &#8220It's returning to the basics is what's going to allow us to win more elections.” Earlier speakers weren't shy about taking shots at Gov. Rod Blagojevich. DeKalb Alderman James Barr was met with silence when he asked for a show of applause for the governor. &#8220You and 12 million others across the great state of Illinois feel that way,” he said. Chris Rickert can be reached at crickert@ daily-chronicle.com.

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