FISA Update: The Amendments, The Vote

The Senate is scheduled to consider H.R. 6304, the FISA Amendments Act, Tuesday with three amendments subject to debate. If any of the three passes the entire bill stops and national security is the loser. So the commentary and debate and protest represent statements of principle or raising the flag or playing to the (very angry, activist) base or …

Again, the key issue is whether private parties — trial lawyers, privacy absolutists, and Administration opponents — should be able to sue the telecom companies in an effort to undermine the Administration’s national security and intelligence-gathering process.

Sens. Chris Dodd (D-CT), Russell Feingold (D-WI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have an amendment that would strip the provisions that allow a federal district court to grant immunity to those telecom companies that assisted in the federal government’s interception of foreign communications. In February, when Sen. Dodd proposed the immunity-stripping amendment to S. 2248, it failed by a vote of 31-67. Passage this time will require 50 votes.

Sen. Dodd raises another protest in an op-ed today, “Opponents of Retroactive Immunity Live To Fight Another Day,” at the Huffington Post, the daily courier of the outraged critics of Administration and telecoms. He comments, “I’m under no illusion that we will be able to keep this bill from the president’s desk forever; two weeks ago, I was disappointed that we could only muster 15 votes out of the necessary 41 to block consideration of FISA.”

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) has an amendment that would require the courts first to rule on the constitutionality of the government’s instructions before it granted immunity and dismissed the civil lawsuits against the telephone companies. The Specter amendment would require 60 votes.

And Sen. Bingaman (D-NM) has an amendment that would move up the schedule for an intelligence Inspector General’s report on the legality of the surveillance to BEFORE the court dismisses the lawsuits (assuming that the court do so).  In an interview in the Albuquerque Journal, the Senator said, “I’m not too optimistic they will adopt it. There are some on the Democratic side who are going to oppose my amendment, too.”

Senator Specter just finished speaking on his amendment, and he says, “I’m prepared to stomach the bill if i must,” but ….

A good review of the state of play is in The National Journal, which includes Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s prediction of a final passage with 70-plus votes.

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