Blog of Rights

FISA Train Speeds Off the Tracks

By Michelle Richardson, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:21pm
Yesterday the FISA train came off the rails in a big way - oddly enough, right as the House was taking up railroad safety. After beginning a debate in the morning, then breaking for a short recess, the Republicans offered a particularly nasty motion to recommit (or MTR, which sends the bill back to committee for further discussion) that, through its specific wording, would have killed the Democrats' RESTORE bill right then and there. Rather than risk it, the Dems took their bill and went home.

It looks like Democratic leadership is getting squeezed from the left and the right. On the left, members are hesitant to give the administration warrantless wiretapping of Americans. Hopefully they will finally consider Congressman Rush Holt's (D-RI) simple, one-paragraph fix that will that will put the RESTORE Act back in line with the Fourth Amendment and make sure Americans get individualized warrants when they are tapped on US soil - no excuses, and no semantics about who's really the target (as if that really matters when the government is listening to your phone calls).

On the right, Motions to Recommit are the minority's right - a last ditch amendment offered on the floor right before the final vote. As currently worded, the MTR on the FISA would send the bill back to committee to consider language basically saying that nothing in the bill can prevent the government for spying in the name of terrorism. The silly thing is that before the Dems took the majority, MTRs were no big deal, and were voted down by the Republicans 99 percent of the time. They continue to plague this Dem Congress, which just can't seem to keep its most conservative members in check.

There are pretty solid rumors that telecom immunity is already in the Senate bill. And, frankly, if the language is anything like the past attempts we've seen, it's a little too broad for our taste. Instead of singling out the telecoms, it allows immunity to be granted to anyone alleged to have cooperated in the warrantless wiretapping program. Doesn't that include Mike McConnell? Alberto Gonzales? Vice President Cheney? President Bush? The Senate needs to make sure that what they allow to be in the bill doesn't have unintended consequences. When it comes to giving out get-out-of-jail-free cards, shouldn't we make the process a little more stringent than effectively flyering Pennsylvania Avenue?

Quick update - As of 3 PM today, Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) has put a hold on the Senate bill. Of course we'll be keeping a close watch on this. We'll be asking for your help, too, so watch your inboxes.

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