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FISA Vote, or How I Lost Complete Faith in Our Legislative Branch

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July 9, 2008

Today’s the day, folks. Start dialing your international calls now while you still have some assurance of privacy.

Reid came on the floor and set up the rules. Debate will continue then votes on the amendments — Dodd, then Specter, then Bingaman.

Senator McConnell: “Blah blah blah compromise blah blah blah thanks to Bond’s leadership blah blah blah…”

Then Bond spoke, saying that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was created as and should be the only vehicle for oversight. May I say, you’ve not done a great job, sir. Even Rockefeller, whose capitulation on immunity is insane, thought the program was out of line and went so far as to keep a sealed letter in his desk disavowing it. And look where we are now. Bond also called out “far left editorial writers.” Wink, wink NYT!

Hatch followed Bond and attempted to rebut points made on the floor yesterday while also tearing down those who have suits against the phone companies. He argued that no one in the government has the time or inclination to monitor random domestic phone calls. Well, whether they have the time or inclination they’re about to get the ability to do so, so thanks.

Hatch also repeated Bond’s strange and likely baseless argument that, if the lawsuits go forward, phone companies will suffer consequences including possible physical threat to their employees. Can someone explain that to me? Who is circulating that talking point? What the hell is going on?

Feingold on Hatch’s remarks that the majority of the Senate being in the dark on the specifics of the program: “Wow.” He smacked down Hatch’s condescending remark that it’s the “black helicopter crowd” that is concerned with this saying, “It could not be clearer that this program broke the law and this president broke the law.”

Feingold’s walked us through the history of this issue, starting before the New York Times broke the story. (Here’s a little history lesson from the ACLU.) He brought up that old Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) story. You know, the one where the administration claimed Congress gave it the go ahead to wiretap without warrants when it passed the AUMF? That should have been another red flag that this administration is crazy-go-nuts for ridiculous legal interpretations. (BTW, here’s an old and fantastic story on TPM that I just found — check the date on that baby.) Then the administration was all, “No, no, no. The president’s got Article II authority.” Wasn’t it clear when it was scrambling for prior legal cover that the administration knew it was caught with its hand in the cookie jar?

Feingold also said that, as a member of the Intel committee, he’s seen all the documents and has been read into the program and, “members of this body will regret we passed this legislation.” If only that would resonate…

Leahy is Leahy and I love him. Oh my goodness, I love him.

Specter followed Leahy and said passing this law without knowing the full details of the program is like buying a pig in a poke. It’s been a while since I’ve heard that and he’s right. It can’t be said enough that senators are voting on something that the majority of them have little or no context for. Once this bill passes and these amendments are voted down, it’s done. DONE. Everything you always wanted to know about the president’s domestic spying program will remain a mystery.

Senator Sanders just took to the floor and spoke for less than a minute but said everything that needed to be said. We’re all for finding terrorists and preventing attacks but we must remain within the bounds of the Constitution. Sanders out.

Since votes came up quicker than I can type, I’ll quickly summarize:

  1. Bingaman speaks on his amendment.
  2. Dodd is up — he had a great line thanking the blogs, advocates and private citizens who have inserted themselves into the debate saying, “Not one of them had to be involved but they chose to be.” Awwww.
  3. Rockefeller spoke and bizarrely called it a farce that the administration was claiming that, right after the story broke, “Congress had been briefed” when in reality only four members had been. Strange line to draw when the vast — VAST — majority of members still haven’t been fully briefed.
  4. Cantwell was next and wisely the point the language of the bill is written so vaguely that it will allow for the “broad expansion of authority to conduct domestic surveillance.”
  5. Then Nelson, another member of the Intel committee who has been fully briefed, reiterated that he is against blanket immunity and offered an amendment against it in committee.
  6. Bond spoke again and made some snarky comment about briefing the New York Times with sensitive material. Sigh.
  7. Dodd followed with a last-minute plea for his amendment. It didn’t work. The Dodd amendment failed, 32-66.
  8. Specter followed with a last-minute plea for his amendment. It didn’t work. The Specter amendment failed, 37-61
  9. Bingaman followed with a last-minute plea for his amendment. It didn’t work. The Bingaman amendment failed, 42-56

Final passage will be around 2 or 2:15. Stay tuned and don’t do anything foolish in the meantime. We’ll get through this.

Update: After the amendments were effectively killed – along with any possible hope of court review of the president’s illegal and unconstitutional domestic spying program (can’t say that enough) – the votes for final passage were counted.

The votes were cast and so was the die. Final count: 69 to 28.

I can only say it’s been emotional. This isn’t the last you’ll be hearing from the ACLU on this subject — in fact, far from it. Keep an eye on this space for our continued and tireless work protecting the Fourth Amendment (and all the other ones, too, come to think of it).