The bill, which was passed on a 293-129 vote, does more than just protect the telecoms. The update to the 30-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is an attempt to balance privacy rights with the government's responsibility to protect the country against attack, taking into account changes in telecommunications technologies.
"This bill, though imperfect, protects both," said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., and a former member of the intelligence committee.
Key senators voiced strong opposition to the compromise, although they're unlikely to have the votes to either defeat or filibuster the bill. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, condemned the immunity deal. He said that nothing in the new bill would prevent the government from once again wiretapping domestic phone and computer lines without court permission.
Specter said the problem is constitutional: The White House may still assert that the president's Article II powers as commander in chief supersede statutes that would limit him actions.
"Only the courts can decide that issue and this proposal dodges it," Specter said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California disputed that, saying FISA would from now on be the authority for the government to conduct electronic surveillance.
Yeah, and we know how well Bush has observed the law so far.
(Banging head against wall)
Update: Glenn Greenwald weighs in.
Surrendering and fearful: that's the face of the Democratic Party. It's how they show they're not weak. The most succinct summary of what the Democrats just "negotiated" came from Russ Feingold: "The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation."Oh goody, Barack is supporting the "compromise." So much for protecting and defending the Constitution. Greenwald goes after him:
I'd like to underscore the fact that in 2006, when the Congress was controlled by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert, the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by Steny Hoyer, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to accomplish that.
She [Pelosi] doesn't have the courage to say if she supports it -- that is superb and strong leadership -- but in praising the bill, she invokes the justification so obviously misleading that it should insult anyone who hears it: namely, that we should all be grateful because this bill "empowers the District Court, not the FISA Court, to look into issues that relate to immunity."
Indeed. What a wonderful concession that is. Instead of ordering the FISA court to give amnesty to the telecoms in secret, the bill orders the District Court to give amnesty to the telecoms in secret. What a very significant and meaningful improvement that is.
Nobody should be fooled by Obama's vow to work to remove telecom amnesty from this bill. Harry Reid is already acknowledging that this "effort" is likely to fail and is just pure political theater: Reid said: "Probably we can't take that out of the bill, but I'm going to try." The article continued: "Reid said the vote would allow those opposed to the liability protection to 'express their views.'"Please read the entire Greenwald piece. It's a tour de force.
We should continue to demand that amnesty is removed from the bill -- and fight it to the bitter end -- but this whole separate vote they'll have in the Senate on whether to remove amnesty is principally designed to enable Obama, once he votes to enact this bill, to say: "Well, I tried to get immunity out, and when I couldn't, I decided to support the compromise." It's almost certainly the case that Hoyer secured Obama's support for the bill before unveiling it.
Either way, Obama -- if amnesty isn't removed -- is going to vote for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, and his statement today all but sealed the fate of this bill.