A FISA VICTORY IN THE SENATE... FOR NOW
McConnell blockage fails
Bush and Cheney aren't getting their retroactive immunity. McConnell needed 60 votes-- he wound up with 48-- to do his obstructionist song and dance and Arlen Specter voted with the Democrats. The only Democrats crossing over to the Dark Side were Ben Nelson (NE), Mary Landrieu (LA), Blanche Lincoln (AR) and Mark Pryor (AR), 4 of the most most consistently reactionary Democrats in Congress. Glenn Greenwald doesn't think this little victory today will amount to much more than a hill of beans.
In one sense, this is an extremely mild victory, to put that generously. All this really means is that they will now proceed to debate and vote on the pending amendments to the bill, almost certainly defeat all of the meaningfully good ones, approve a couple of amendments which improve the bill in the most marginal ways, and then end up ultimately voting for a bill that contains both telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping. Moreover, it seems clear that Senate Republicans deliberately provoked this outcome and were hoping for it, by sabotaging what looked to be imminent Democratic capitulation so that Bush could accuse Democrats tonight of failing to pass a new FISA bill, thus helping their friend Osama.
Still, in another sense, this is significant. Preventing a vote today means that there is more time to work on opposing immunity, including by working on ensuring that the House stays firm behind its relatively decent bill. It also means that the Senate -- for once -- has refused to capitulate to brazen White House pressure tactics, whereby the President demanded that the Senate give the administration everything it wants before the Friday expiration of the PAA. Also, the presidential candidates responded to public pressure by joining in the filibuster, which is encouraging.
And, perhaps most significantly, this slight stirring of resolve might carry over into the next vote, to extend the PAA by 30 days and thus force Bush's hand either to veto the extension or back down (they will need 60 votes just to vote on that proposal). Again, anything that prevents quick and quiet resolution of telecom immunity and new FISA powers is a real benefit.
They will now vote on the 30-day extension. Reid just said the House was sure to vote in favor of it. That means the Republicans can either allow this "Critical Intelligence Tool" to continue (by voting for a 30-day extension) or deprive our intelligence professionals of the ability to Keep Us Safe.
Let the absurd and inherently dishonest Bush regime fearmongering begin! No one believes anything he says anymore anyway.
The two heroes of the whole FISA bill were Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold, who consistently stood up to the Bush machine and to their own weak, confused leaders. Dodd's remarks on the floor of the Senate are worth reading. Here are some highlights:
So much hinges on the bill before us; so many of my colleagues have come to this floor to tell us just how vitally important it is. It will set America's terrorist surveillance policy well into the next presidential term, and beyond. Depending on the outcome, it has the power to bring that surveillance under the rule of law-- or to confirm the president's urge to be a law of his own. It has the power to bring the facts of warrantless spying to light and to public scrutiny-- or to lock down those facts as the property of the powerful. It has the power to declare that the same law applies to all of us, rich or poor, well-connected or not-- or to set the precedent that some corporations are too rich to be sued, that immunity can effectively be bought.
And yet-- the Senate is frozen today. I've objected passionately to retroactive immunity—but I did not shut out debate. Republicans have frozen the Senate since debate began last week. And they unwittingly created a perfect microcosm of retroactive immunity right here in this body. Because both flow from the same impulse: shutting down the organs of government-- the courts, or the Senate-- when you are afraid you won't get your way. That's why President Bush wants his favored corporations saved from lawsuits. And that is why the Republican Party wants this bill saved from any and all amendments-- saved from serious and thoughtful discussion.
...Tonight, President Bush will come to Congress to speak to us, and to the American people, about the state of the Union. I hope he will use that opportunity to realize that the Senate needs more time to do its constitutional duty to debate and consider this important legislation.
However, I am concerned he will instead continue to threaten to veto this legislation unless it includes retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies.
The President has said that this bill is essential to 'protecting the American people from enemies who attacked our country.' So why is he trying to stop it? Why did he promise to veto it? Why would he throw it all away to protect a few corporations from lawsuits?
Seantor Feingold's statement is also the kind of thing all Americans should look at so they can hold their representative to a higher standard than the the overly partisan and clueless Insiders have come to think they can get away with.
“Today’s vote against jamming a deeply flawed FISA bill through the Senate is a win for the American people and a rejection of the bullying tactics of the administration. We all agree that FISA needs to be updated so our government can go after the foreign communications of suspected terrorists. But we must not provide overly broad and unnecessary powers that infringe on the rights and privacy of law-abiding Americans, especially to an administration that has proven it cannot be trusted. I hope that Republicans will now allow the Senate to consider and vote on amendments to improve the FISA bill, such as adding privacy protections for Americans and stripping immunity for telecom companies that allegedly participated in the president’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program.”