FISA Update: A Mess

By January 28, 2008General

Debate just resumed on S. 2248, the FISA Amendments, with Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blistering the Administration for “scaring the public” and “gambling with the safety of Americans and the continued cooperation of companies that we rely upon for aid to protect our country.” He’s referring to the President’s demand for quick action without debate on Democratic amendments, including laguage providing legal immunity for telecommunications companies.

The authority expires Friday. Despite the deadline, cloture will fail, debate will continue, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gets closer to achieving his demand for a 30-day extension. Rockefeller says debate could involve 12 to 15 amendments.

Senator Kit Bond (R-MO), the committee’s co-chairman, was on a conference call with bloggers earlier in the afternoon, and he’s repeating the arguments on the floor right now. There’s been more than enough time to pass a bill, Bond says, since the issue arose last April. He warns against the “myth” that a short-term extension is acceptable:

What the liberals who oppose us will fail to point out is that without a long-term fix our intelligence community will lack any certainty about their ability to use legally the tools they need to protect us.

Also, without our longer-term legislation, there is no civil liability protection for those providers who allegedly assisted the government with the terrorist surveillance program and those who might assist us with future requests. Without this protection our intelligence sources and methods could be compromised resulting in the loss of intelligence that could be vital to our intelligence operations and our troops on the battlefield as well as our homeland security forces in America.

President Bush is expected to reinforce his demand for action in the State of the Union address this evening.

More in a bit…

UPDATE (3:50 p.m.) Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) insists the intelligence gathering was illegal and says he wants to pass an amendment eliminating retroactive immunity for telecom companies. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) reminds the audience that the Senate rejected the Judiciary Committee alternative last week (which did not provide immunity), leaving the bipartisan Intelligence Committee as acceptable legislation. Why delay, “why kick the can down the road down another month, only to find ourselves in the same posture we find ourselves today?” Why postpone the tough choices?

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