Looks like the Democrat led 110th Congress is going to be run as ineptly and in such disarray as the 109th was. In the 109th they added an idiotic sunset provision into the FISA law which gave them six months to hammer out a long term version. What did they do? Nothing. The Democrats stamped their feet and cried and cried about the telecom immunity but never worked to compromise, as usual.
The Senate signaled in a key vote yesterday that it supports giving some of the nation’s largest telephone companies immunity from dozens of privacy lawsuits related to a federal domestic eavesdropping program initiated after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
In a lopsided 60 to 36 vote — with 12 Democrats joining Republicans in the majority — the Senate rejected a version of the proposed legislation sponsored by Democrats on the Judiciary Committee. That bill omitted immunity for the telecommunications firms involved in warrantless eavesdropping.
The move kept alive a competing proposal, from Democrats and Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, that would give the companies the legal protections they seek. It also underscored the deep divisions among Democrats on the surveillance issue. A measure passed by House Democrats would offer no immunity for the companies.
The vote marked a notable victory for the White House, which has pushed hard for telecom immunity.
If they don’t pass the new legislation on FISA, giving the Telecom companies the immunity they need, then the NSA will have to stop collecting some intelligence in real time. Meaning the Democrat led Congress will have put our country at grave risk, all for politics.
12 Democrats in the Senate jumped across party lines and voted with the Republicans to ensure that the Telecom industry gets the immunity thats needed, and did their part to get FISA on the right track. The House has a competing bill that is pretty much the same as Harry’s….but with the strong support for immunity it has no chance whatsoever of passing into law. So here we are once again, as we were six months ago, and the Democrats just can’t face the reality that the security of our nation is more important then partisan politics.
A little rundown of fracas:
First, twelve Democrats crossed the aisle to help Republicans kill an alternative bill, reported out of the Judiciary Committee, which contained more extensive oversight provisions but lacked the hotly-contested immunity grant. Majority Leader Harry Reid had come under fire late last year when he declined to use his scheduling powers to make the Judiciary bill the default legislation, opting instead to bring to the floor the version produced by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Various Democrats then attempted to introduce amendments to the Intel bill, many of which incorporated elements of the Judiciary bill. Sheldon Whitehouse sought to allow the FISA court to review the intelligence community’s compliance with the minimization procedures designed to limit the collection of information about innocent Americans who may communicate with foreign surveillance targets. Dianne Feinstein advocated reinforcing FISA’s status as the “exclusive means” by which foreign intelligence surveillance could be conducted, an attempt to preclude future administrations from claiming (as George Bush has) that Congressional authorization of military action had implicitly created new loopholes in FISA. Russ Feingold wanted to allow Congress to see redacted versions of pleadings before the FISA court, so that legislators could learn how judges were interpreting the reformed law. Ben Cardin hoped to shortening the sunset provision contained in the bill, so that it would expire in four years rather than six. Ted Kennedy advanced an amendment to allow the Inspector General to look into previous wiretapping activities and offer a report to Congress. And, of course, there was the fraught question of immunity, which an amendment sponsored by Mr Feingold an Mr Dodd would repeal. But Republicans objected at every point, hoping to force a vote on the unadulterated version of the Intel bill.
A visibly frustrated Harry Reid then sought to extend the Protect America Act, passed hastily in August and due to expire at the start of February. This, he argued, would permit time to fully debate a significant revamping of surveillance law, and to consider the proposed amendments. He was again rebuffed, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell submitted a cloture petition. If cloture is imposed, debate on the bill will be limited to 30 hours. In order to prevent this, Democrats will need to win over some of the 60 senators who had earlier voted to table the alternative Judiciary bill. Comments on the floor by Mr Reid, however, suggest that at least some of those who support the Intel bill—including Jay Rockefeller, who sponsored it—are reluctant to close off debate at this point.
It is all going to come down to Monday when the cut n’ run crowd will try to block cloture. We need to do our part an email the Senators that this bill is too important, and giving Telecom companies immunity is too important, to play games with. They need to pass cloture and move on to protecting this country.
Sure, 12 Democrats jumped the aisle but its not certain they will vote for Cloture. Those who tried to throw in amendments may in fact not vote for it so its very important they hear from us.
All the numbers for the Senators can be found here. The left is gearing up to contact many Senators to make sure cloture is defeated, lets make sure that doesn’t happen.
Vice President Dick Cheney gave a great speech on FISA yesterday at the Heritage Foundation. Here is the whole 16 minute speech:
As with any legislative matter, there will be points of agreement and points of disagreement. I prefer to begin with some points of fact. The United States of America has not experienced a catastrophic attack since the morning of September 11th, 2001. In the days following 9/11, we had to assume that another attack was imminent. We proceeded on that basis, mobilizing against the danger, and using every legitimate tool at our command to protect the American people against another attack.
It is a fact, as well, that the danger to our country remains very real, and that the terrorists are still determined to hit us. They are fanatical in their hatred. They likely have operatives inside the United States. And they have tried many times to cause more violence and death in this country.
Nobody can guarantee that we won’t be hit again. Our intelligence agencies have made clear that we’re in a heightened threat environment, with a “persistent and evolving” terrorist adversary. And so the relative safety of the six years and four months since 9/11 is not an accident. It’s an achievement. And the achievement is the product of some very hard work by Americans in intelligence, in law enforcement, and the military — and some wise decisions by the President of the United States.
Among the most effective weapons against terrorism is good intelligence — information that helps us figure out the movements of the enemy, the extent of their operation, the location of their cells, the plans that they’re making, the methods they use, and the targets that they want to strike. Information of this kind is also the very hardest to obtain. But it’s worth the effort in terms of the plots that are averted and the lives that are saved.
The best source of that information is, of course, the terrorists themselves. So our government has taken careful but urgent steps to monitor the communications of enemies at large, and to get information out of the ones that we’ve captured.
We’ve also managed to prevent attacks and save lives by monitoring terrorist-related communications. One of the vehicles for doing so is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But that law was written three decades ago, and in recent years it became clear that FISA was becoming dangerously out of date.
The basic problem was this. When FISA was passed 30 years ago, many domestic phone calls were transmitted by wire, and most international phone calls went by radio or satellite. Today, it’s the opposite. A lot of international communications are actually routed through computers and cables inside the United States. This would mean, under the original language of FISA, that the U.S. sometimes could not monitor, without a finding of probable cause and a court order, one foreign citizen abroad making a telephone call to another foreign citizen abroad about terrorism, because of changes in technology.
Congress never intended to grant privacy rights to enemies overseas, yet because of modern technology, the law began to have that very effect. As a consequence, much information that was important to national security simply went uncollected. The intelligence director, Admiral Mike McConnell, alerted us to the intelligence gap, and we asked Congress to fix the law.
On Telecom immunity:
The fact is, the intelligence community doesn’t have the facilities to carry out the kind of international surveillance needed to defend this country since 9/11. In some situations there is no alternative to seeking assistance from the private sector. This is entirely appropriate. Indeed, the Protect America Act and other laws allow directives to be issued to private parties for intelligence-gathering purposes.
As Attorney General Mukasey has said, “Even if you believe the lawsuits will ultimately be dismissed, as we do, the prospect of having to defend against these massive claims is an enormous burden; the companies also may suffer significant business and reputational harm” from allegations they cannot even respond to publicly. One might even suppose that without liability protection for past activities to aid the government, the private sector might be extremely reluctant to comply with future requests from the government — even though the requests are necessary to protect American lives. That risk is unacceptable to the President. It should be unacceptable to the United States Congress. Liability protection, retroactive to 9/11, is the right thing to do. It’s the right way to help us prevent another 9/11 down the road.
Remember, the State Of The Union address is Monday evening. Will the Democrats want Bush to go into that speech without a new FISA law?
We shall see.