The House letting surveillance authority lapse? A political calculation, says Robert Novak. A cash calculation.
The true cause for blocking the bill was the Senate-passed retroactive immunity from lawsuits for private telecommunications firms asked to eavesdrop by the government. The nation’s torts bar, vigorously pursuing such suits, has spent months lobbying hard against immunity.
The recess by House Democrats amounts to a judgment that losing the generous support of trial lawyers, the Democratic Party’s most important financial base, is more dangerous than losing the anti-terrorist issue to Republicans. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the phone companies for giving personal information to intelligence agencies without a warrant. Adm. Mike McConnell, the nonpartisan director of national intelligence, says delay in congressional action deters cooperation in detecting terrorism.
Novak does note that there was a sizable minority of House Democrats who supported the Senate-passed revision of FISA authority, which included immunity for the telecommunications companies.
UPDATE (12:30 p.m.) More from The Examiner’s editorial page, which detects two reasons for House leadership’s decision to allow the authority to expire: “first, to please the class-action lawyers and left-wing activists who provide so much campaign cash and energy to liberal incumbents, and second, to hold the telecoms hostage to a wider political battle against the administration’s anti-terrorism policies. In so doing, though, they also hold hostage a key element in our defenses against terrorists seeking to murder Americans.”
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