Update 6:00pm Eastern. DJN: “Lawmakers in the Senate defeated an initial attempt Thursday to strip immunity for telecommunications companies out of a bill reauthorizing the federal government’s warrantless wiretapping program. Senators approved a motion to table an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would have removed the immunity provision in the bill. The vote was 60-34. Democratic senators are planning at least two more amendments seeking to remove the immunity clause. If they both fail, then Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., has repeated his pledge to attempt to block a vote on the bill. Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, Dodd said he was “vehemently” opposed to immunity and would do everything he could to prevent it.”
Debate continues on the Senate floor…cloture vote is schedule for Monday… hours before Bush’s State of the Union address.
An earlier FISA vote in the Senate today netted 60 votes, and if that coalition of Republicans plus conservative Democrats holds firm, then McConnell will get cloture. However, rank-and-file senators from both parties often support their leaders on cloture votes, so Reid may be able to keep Democrats in line, thus blocking cloture.
It is also unclear at this time if the “presidentials” — that is, senators running for the White House — will attend Monday’s vote.
When I’m down on the Republicans, I tell you. When they deserve your support, I tell you. In the Senate this morning, the Republicans are showing that there are still fundamental differences between the GOP and the Dems. You can tune in right now to C-SPAN 2 to watch the battle over permanent reform and overhaul of the nations’ outdated Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. There are nine days until the current stopgap measure expires.
The frenzy over FISA is a stark reminder of basic party differences on the War on Terror. The Republicans put security first. The Democrats put trial lawyers, terrorists’ rights, and election campaigns first. The Republicans are acting to prevent another 9/11. The Democrats are stuck in a 9/10 world. Treacherous Dick Durbin is currently on the floor right now using the FISA debate to foam at the mouth about Guantanamo Bay again and yes, he’s quoting that idiotic, Soros-backed Center for Public Integrity “study” to pollute the Senate chambers with more “BUSH LIED PEOPLE DIED” propaganda as Denny K did in the House yesterday.
Democrat Chris Dodd is threatening a filibuster. And the jihadists are cheering.
As Andy McCarthy explains:
Dodd’s objection is about as counterproductive as it gets to national security. He is unhappy because a far from perfect but comparatively sensible FISA-reform proposal that won overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate Intelligence Committee would provide telecommunications service providers with immunity from legal liability.
The telecoms, in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity, acceded to the Bush administration’s requests for assistance in carrying out the NSA’s warrantless monitoring of wartime terrorist communications that crossed U.S. borders. This effort, relying on presidential authority consistently acknowledged by the federal appeals courts, did not comply with FISA protocols.
Granting the telecoms immunity, which is not merely the only fair thing to do but the only smart thing to do, would end numerous lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and others.
…Dodd and his colleagues in the Democratic party are desperate to keep the courts front and center. Feeling the heat from their hard-Left base, they would have al-Qaeda operatives given protection against surveillance not only inside the United States but overseas — such that if, for example, jihadists inside Iraq were plotting to kill American marines there, the government would have to seek a judge’s permission before eavesdropping on their communications.
This is so patently absurd and dangerous that even the energetic Leftist Congress which enacted FISA in 1978 did not attempt it, taking pains to exempt intelligence collection outside the United States from the new (and ill-advised) requirement that the president — the constitutional official principally responsible for national security — obtain court permission before monitoring spies and terrorists. The Democrats would obviously prefer to depict such foolishness as the doing of judges rather than a policy choice bearing their own fingerprints.
Thus the Dodd gambit: Just say “no” to telecom immunity while pushing for an 18-month extension of the temporary deal Congress and the administration struck this summer, which permits the CIA and NSA to continue overseas surveillance without court permission.
Currently, that deal is scheduled to sunset in early February. The Democrats’ strategy is transparent. They realize their position underscores how weak they are on national security and how beholden they are to the CAIR/ACLU/MoveOn.org Left, which is more animated by the “rights” of terrorists than the lives of Americans. If they can con the Bush administration into accepting the 18-month extension, that takes the issue off the table for the 2008 election. Not only would Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama be able to avoid being accountable for their party’s unpopular position. The ducking would further help one of them win the presidency, whereupon she or he could help Democrats sculpt a more terrorist-friendly FISA in 2009, when no one is up for re-election and public scrutiny ebbs.
The Bush administration and the Republican presidential candidates should not let them get away with it. FISA needs a major overhaul to make it easier, not harder, to monitor the people trying to kill us. Osama bin Laden doesn’t need to apply to a sharia court before blowing up an American embassy; the president shouldn’t need to apply to a federal court to try to stop him…
The nutroots are cheering on the Dems’ obstructionist effort to block a lasting FISA makeover. Where are you?
Make your voice heard.
Senate switchboard: 202-224-3121
Here are the proposals on the table. Some not-insane Dems are on board with the Senate intelligence panel’s version that contains retroactive legal immunity for the telecoms.
Here’s a left-wing site’s lambasting of amendments being offered by Feinstein and Specter.
The White House statement on FISA released this morning:
Last August, Congress passed the Protect America Act, which updated our foreign intelligence surveillance law to adapt to today’s technology and to meet today’s threats. This bipartisan legislation has aided our efforts to monitor the communications of terrorists and other foreign intelligence targets.
Unfortunately, Congress set this legislation to expire on February 1st. That is just 8 days from today – yet the threat from al Qaeda will not expire in 8 days.
If Congress does not act quickly, our national security professionals will not be able to count on critical tools they need to protect our Nation, and our ability to respond quickly to new threats and circumstances will be weakened. That means it will become harder to figure out what our enemies are doing to recruit terrorists and infiltrate them into our country.
Last fall, the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its work on a bipartisan bill to modernize our foreign intelligence surveillance law. I commend Senators Rockefeller and Bond, the Committee’s Chairman and Vice Chairman, for leading the effort to complete work on this bill.
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill contains many provisions that our intelligence officials say they need to protect our country. The bill would maintain the vital flow of intelligence on terrorist threats. It would protect the freedoms of Americans while making sure we do not extend those same protections to terrorists overseas. And it would provide liability protection to companies now facing billion dollar lawsuits only because they are believed to have assisted in efforts to defend our Nation following the Nine-Eleven attacks.
This bill still needs some changes, but I am optimistic that with goodwill on both sides we can make those changes quickly. So I ask Congressional leaders to follow the course set by their colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee, bring this legislation to a prompt vote in both houses, and send me a bill that I can sign before the Protect America Act expires on February 1st.
Congress’ action – or lack of action – on this important issue will directly affect our ability to keep Americans safe.