Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Coming Showdown -- 3: FISA fight in a nutshell

By Carol Gee

On amending FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act: Once again lots of action bubbled on and off the floors in the U.S. Congress Tuesday. Various elements of the House, the Senate and citizen activists went toe to toe over what to do with this highly contentious legislation. Those of us who are "little bloggers" need to give well-deserved kudos to the "big bloggers" taking the lead in such magnificent ways. They deserve the country's gratitude for public service: Glenn Greenwald at, Jane Hamsher and "empty wheel" at Firedoglake, Chris Bowers and Tim Tagaris at Open Left, and "mcjoan" at DailyKos. We couldn't do it without you!

The Protect America Act (PAA) would have expired February 1 at the end of its six month limit, but it has been extended. By voice vote, the House of Representatives passed a 15-day PAA extension that had been agreed to by the White House. Then the House promptly left to go on retreat for the rest of the week. The Senate has also agreed to the extension, according to Rep. Steny Hoyer. (ht to FDL)

The blogosphere went into action against this backdrop with a contact-your-senator campaign urging wavering lawmakers to stand firm against the Republican tactics. Thousands of e-mails, phone calls and faxes bombarded senate offices urging support for Senator Reid's announced position of opposition to a Republican cloture motion set for a Monday afternoon vote. The motion failed, as did a subsequent cloture vote on a proposed 30-day PAA extension. Informal debate on the FISA issues has continued in the Senate.

In the Senate two bills are in play. A bipartisan compromise bill demanded by the administration came out of the Intelligence Committee and eventually to the floor for debate. It featured retroactive immunity for the cooperating telecommunications companies that have allegedly been helping the government with the spying program since the beginning of this administration. A Judiciary Committee version, offered better civil liberties protection and omitted the "telecom immunity," was never brought to the floor. However a number of Senators wanted to offer key elements of it as amendments to the Intel Committee bill. So far, the Republicans have successfully prevented that, demanding that a so-called "clean" bill the president would sign, be passed without amendment. Now the Senate will likely have an opportunity to actually debate and amend the flawed Intel bill, title by title.

Key Senators -- Significantly, key bloggers met with Senator Russ Feingold, who gave them a little demo about the FISA bill. Senators Clinton and Obama were on the Senate floor to vote Monday afternoon and Senator Obama's statement is here DailyKos' mcjoan provided the latest on this whole episode, including the upcoming action needed with Senators who need propping up by the blogosphere. To quote:

So here's our new target. Call, fax, and e-mail Senator Rockefeller and the likely suspects among the Democrats to urge them to make sure that all of the Democratic caucus's FISA amendments get to the Senate floor and that they establish a 50 vote threshold on Democratic amendments.

  • Rockefeller, (202) 224-6472 phone, (202) 224-7665 fax
  • Bayh (202) 224-5623 phone, (202) 228-1377 fax
  • Carper (202) 224-2441 phone, (202) 228-2190 fax
  • Feinstein (202) 228-2190 phone, (202) 228-3954 fax
  • Inouye (202) 224-3934 phone, (202) 224-6747 fax
  • Johnson (202) 224-5842 phone, (605) 341-2207 fax
  • Landrieu (202)224-5824 phone, (202) 224-9735 fax
  • Lincoln (202) 224-4843 phone, (202) 228-1371 fax
  • McCaskill (202) 224-6154 phone, (202) 228-6326 fax
  • Mikulski (202) 224-4654 phone, (202) 224-8858 fax
  • Nelson (FL) (202) 224-5274 phone, (202) 228-2183 fax
  • Nelson (NE) (202) 224-6551 phone, (202) 228-0012 fax
  • Pryor (202) 224-2353 phone, (202) 228-0908 fax
  • Salazar (202) 224-5852 phone, (202) 228-5036 fax

Here is a list of free "800" numbers at the capitol, through which you can call Senate offices (courtesy of Firedoglake). I can verify that they work. Within the past few days I reached 14 different Senator's staff members directly. To quote:

  • 1-800-828-0498
  • 1-800-459-1887
  • 1-800-614-2803
  • 1-866-340-9281
  • 1-866-338-1015
  • 1-877-851-6437

The PAA is only the latest iteration of FISA updates or changes to the original legislation passed in 1978. Though the temporary PAA will sunset, the main law, FISA remains in place to offer the basic needed framework for surveillance of suspected enemies of the U.S. Despite claims to the contrary, there will not be any lapse that puts the U.S. deeply at risk of a terrorist attack. Emergency measures are available for whatever eventualities occur with the NSA surveillance apparatus.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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