House Democrats reject telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance – another strike for the “terrorists”, but didn’t bush say he would veto anything that doesn’t offer retroactive immunity for telecoms? it sounds like a tiny step in the right direction, but i’m going to wait until this actually passes into law before i start rejoicing… and that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to all of the other bush screwups we’re going to have to fix… 8/
House Democrats reject telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance
March 14, 2008
By Glenn Greenwald
The House just now approved a new FISA bill that denies retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms and which refuses to grant most of the new powers for the President to spy on Americans without warrants. It passed comfortably, by a 213-197 margin.
Notably, many of the 21 “Blue Dogs” who previously signed a letter indicating their support for telecom immunity and the Rockefeller bill — including several of the six whom the highly successful blog fund-raising campaign earlier this week targeted — voted (and spoke) in support of the House bill (only 10 Democrats voted against the bill, including at least a couple of progressives who think the bill doesn’t go far enough). Many of those Blue Dogs were persuaded to support the bill by the protections which the bill offers to telecoms (i.e., authorizing them to introduce even classified evidence in the lawsuits to prove they complied with the law, if they actually did).
As impressive as the House vote itself was, more impressive still was the floor debate which preceded it. I can’t recall ever watching a debate on the floor of either House of Congress that I found even remotely impressive — until today. One Democrat after the next — of all stripes — delivered impassioned, defiant speeches in defense of the rule of law, oversight on presidential eavesdropping, and safeguards on government spying. They swatted away the GOP’s fear-mongering claims with the dismissive contempt such tactics deserve, rejecting the principle that has predominated political debate in this country since 9/11: that the threat of the Terrorists means we must live under the rule of an omnipotent President and a dismantled constitutional framework.
It is possible that the House will ultimately end up capitulating to the President, but I have real doubts about whether that will happen. They have defied the standard GOP Terrorism-exploitation attacks for weeks, allowed the Protect America Act to expire (once the President refused to extend it), and now passed a very good bill even in the midst of intense GOP/media attacks. They did so as a result of a shrewd strategy and a willingness to frame and engage the debate aggressively. My views on the bill, and the unexpectedly commendable behavior of House Democrats, are here, from earlier in the week.
It’s hard not to believe that there’s at least some significant sea change reflected by this. They have seen that they can defy the President even on matters of Terrorism, and the sky doesn’t fall in on them. Quite the opposite: an outspoken opponent of telecom amnesty, warrantless eavesdropping and the Iraq War was just elected to the House from Denny Hastert’s bright red district, and before that, Donna Edwards ousted long-time incumbent Al Wynn by accusing him of being excessively complicit with the Bush agenda.
Virtually every one I know who has expended lots of efforts and energy on these FISA and telecom issues has assumed from the start — for reasons that are all too well-known — that we would lose. And we still might. But it’s hard to deny that the behavior we’re seeing from House Democrats is substantially improved, quite commendably so, as compared to the last year and even before that. It’s very rare when there are meaningful victories and I think it’s important to acknowledge when they happen.