Posted on Friday 16 November 2007

Reflecting the deep divisions within Congress over granting legal immunity to telephone companies for cooperating with the Bush administration’s program of wiretapping without warrants, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a new domestic surveillance law on Thursday that sidestepped the issue. By a 10 to 9 vote, the committee approved an overhaul of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that dropped a key provision for immunity for telecommunications companies that another committee had already approved. The Senate leadership will have to decide how to deal with the immunity question on the Senate floor.

On Thursday night, the House voted 227 to 189, generally along party lines, to approve its own version of the FISA bill, which also does not include immunity. But the administration has made clear that President Bush will veto any bill that does not include what it considers necessary tools for government eavesdropping, including the retroactive immunity for phone carriers that took part in the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Since the N.S.A. program was disclosed nearly two years ago, the major telephone companies have been sued by civil liberties groups and others, who argue that the companies violated the privacy rights of millions of Americans. After lobbying by the telecommunications industry and the White House, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence agreed to the legal protection last month. Under a complicated legislative process, the Intelligence Committee’s bill had to be considered by the Judiciary Committee before it could go to the floor of the Senate for a vote.

Because the two committees could not agree, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, will determine which proposals will be considered by the full Senate, said a spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee. “The full Senate will yet need to resolve the immunity issue,” Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement after the committee vote…
I’ve made it clear below what I think of all of this. Let him veto it. If he vetos the bill, there’s no immunity either. In fact, if he vetos it, he loses because the current FISA rules remain in place. This is the same rhetoric he used with torture – immunity. He’s essentially asking Congress to pardon him and his allies for things he did that were unlawful, things he did without checking with Congress, things he did that are not compatible with the American way of life. So, I know what I think – to hell with what he wants. We’ve got a Constitution to restore.

But I don’t know what Congress wants. Some Democrats, people I have formerly respected, are voting with President Bush on these matters – people like Dianne Feinstein and others. What’s their point? I just don’t quite get it. Surely they don’t support the domestic surveillance program, or torture or immunity. They aren’t really telling us what’s behind this seemingly paradoxical voting. I can’t tell if their voting some as yet unclear conviction or if they’re caving in to some kind of lobby. Does anybody get it? I sure don’t.

Here’s what one fellow questioner has to say:

I think it is apparent that Dianne Feinstein does not intend to run for re-election to the U. S. Senate in 2012. How else can anyone explain, or justify, her recent voting record?

Specifically, she voted to confirm Bush’s nomination of Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court, with the full knowledge that Southwick’s prior judicial decisions reflected a bigotry, a predisposition of homophobia and a favoritism to big business over employees and consumers.She then voted (twice) to confirm Bush’s nomination of Michael Mulkasey as Attorney General, with the knowledge that he refused to take a position concerning "water boarding" being torture, and, in fact, may even support "torture" under certain circumstances, if authorized by the president. He also supports an imperial presidency, where the president’s decisions, as Commander in Chief, cannot be challenged by Congress or the courts.

She voted in favor of the Bush/Cheney-supported Kyle/Lieberman amendment that essentially gives Bush the authority to attack Iran (or virtually any other country to which he might take offense) without further congressional authority or approval. Now I see that she agrees with Bush and favors giving immunity from any past, present or future lawsuits to the telecommunication companies that violated the law, the privacy and civil rights of U.S. citizens, by providing government access to personal phone and e-mail records without a judicial warrant.

These are hardly the actions one would expect of a Democrat from a "blue state" who intends to run for re-election.

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