This afternoon’s cloture vote in the Senate was a do-or-die moment, and whaddya know? Senate Democrats pulled through for the majority of Americans who are against unchecked, warrantless spying and oppose immunity for the telephone companies who aided and abetted the NSA spy program. The cloture vote failed 48 to 45, meaning the Senate can continue to debate over and amend the Senate Intelligence Bill.
Today marked the first time in recent history that the Democrats — and one Republican — stood up to the Bush administration and said “no.” “No” to more warrantless wiretapping of Americans, “no” to more giveaways to the companies that fill politicians’ coffers — that means you, Verizon and AT&T — and “no” to turning a blind eye to the unlawful acts of the Bush administration.
Following the cloture vote, Republicans blocked Democrats’ attempt to add a 30-day extension to the so-called Protect America Act (PAA) to allow for more debate. (Smintheus at DailyKos pretty much summed it up: “Republicans…did not think it right that a deliberative body should devote any more time to actual deliberation.”)
Tomorrow the Senate will resume debate on the Senate Intel bill, which currently offers immunity for the telecoms. Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) promises to filibuster any bill with immunity, and he’s stood firm by this promise since the beginning. Meanwhile, the next step is for House Democrats to pass a 30-day extension of the PAA Tuesday morning, and then send it to the Senate for a vote tomorrow or later this week.
But tonight, of course, is President Bush’s State of the Union address. Amidst assertions that we’re winning the war in the Iraq and reassurances that this recession business is just crazytalk, expect President Bush to trot out his tried-and-true lines about Democrats being soft on terror and endangering American lives by rejecting the cloture vote today.
This is fear-mongering of the worst kind: President Bush resorts to such tactics when he sees things aren’t going his way. Dems need only listen to House Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Senate Intel Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who have noted that all current surveillance orders can be extended into 2009 even if the PAA expires at midnight on February 1.
By allowing the expiration of the PAA, the intelligence community won’t be forced to end its current warrantless wiretapping, and Congress will have the time to do, well, its job and deliberate over what is truly in the interests of the American people, not the phone companies. If no legislation is enacted before the PAA expires, the law simply reverts to the surveillance statutes in place as of last July — the same FISA law that never needed fixing in the first place.