Harry Reid works to ensure telecom amnesty, warrantless surveillance

The Senate majority leader takes an extraordinary step to side with the Bush administration and the telecom industry.


Glenn Greenwald
October 19, 2007 5:18PM (UTC)

(Updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV - Update V - Update VI - Update VII)

I wrote about many of yesterday's developments concerning telecom amnesty and warrantless surveillance in this morning's post, but I want separately to highlight one critical fact. Citing various media reports, Jane Hamsher last night noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- in violation of all Senate customs and rules -- apparently intends, in essence, simply to ignore the "hold" placed on the FISA bill by Chris Dodd and bring the bill to the floor for a vote (and certain passage).

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I was somewhat skeptical of that interpretation. The one "principle" which all Senators share is the sacred holiness of their customs and institutional prerogatives. As Jane notes, Reid has never dishonored a "hold" before from his own caucus, and virtually never dishonors "holds" even when placed by the most far-right Republicans Senators. It seemed inconceivable that he would simply refuse to recognize a "hold" by one of the Senate's most senior members on a bill of this importance, and the media accounts seemed vague on that score.

As a result, I emailed Reid's office to ask if they actually intended to override and ignore Dodd's "hold" and this is the patronizing (though crystal clear) dismissal I received back as a "response" from Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley:

Reid will work with Dodd and other Senators to correct the deep flaws in the Protect America Act.

Clearly, Reid has nothing but contempt for Dodd's principled stand, which was generated by (and in response to) the actions of tens of thousands of Americans concerned about our constitutional liberties and the rule of law. Reid is dismissively brushing that all to the side -- as usual -- to ensure the safe and smooth passage of a Draconian bill jointly demanded by the Bush administration, the telecom industry, and their lobbyists.

There is a reason that the Democratic Congress has been as accommodating to the Bush agenda, if not more so, than even the GOP Congress led by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert. It is because that is what their leadership, repeatedly, chooses to do. Dodd needs to demonstrate that yesterday was not a one-time event by demanding that his "hold" be honored, and the other Democratic candidates, as well as others in the Senate who claim to want to stop this bill, ought to do more than issue empty, right-worded statements and stand with Dodd to block this bill by any means available.

* * * * *

In comments, Jim White provides the telephone number for Reid's office to enable those who are inclined to call and share with them your views of Reid's behavior: (202) 224-3542.

UPDATE: The massive amounts of telecom cash that have suddenly flowed to Jay Rockefeller this year is discussed in the post below, but as Brendan Skwire notes, AT&T is also in the top 20 contributors to Harry Reid.

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Then again, AT&T is the second largest contributor overall to officials in Congress, having poured into the Beltway a total of $38 million in campaign contributions for the election cycles for which these records are available. Verizon is in 33rd place with over $15 million; BellSouth in 39th place with with over $14 million; Time Warner in 28th place with $17 million; and MCI in 83rd place with $8 million. The Communications Workers of America, which lobbies for all sorts of pro-telecom legislation, is in 13th place with close to $25 million.

That's $118 million of telecom money poured into the coffers of members of Congress, and the real total is much higher since this is only from the top 100. And now Congress, on a more or less bipartisan basis, is passing a law declaring that this industry shall be completely immune from any consequences even if they are found to have broken multiple federal laws in allowing illegal spying on all of their customers.

I don't want to insinuate that complete travesties like telecom amnesty happen exclusively or even primarily because of campaign contributions and the influence of lobbyists (the fees for whom are not counted in these totals and undoubtedly vastly exceed the totals of mere contributions). Contributions and the like are obviously significant factors, but the real problem here is much deeper, more problematic and more fundamental -- it goes to the decayed and rotted roots of our political culture. Atrios identifies the real crux of it here.

UPDATE II: Greg Sargent has Dodd's response to Reid's threatened refusal to honor his "hold": Dodd is vowing to lead a filibuster of the bill. That is a decent response -- and, in some sense, it is the functional equivalent of a "hold" -- but I think he ought to object somewhat more strongly to Reid's actions here and encourage other Senators to join in that. Dodd will release a video shortly that elaborates on his response and I'll post it when it is available.

UPDATE III: Chris Dodd speaks on the FISA bill and his vow to filibuster if necessary to stop the bill:



When calling, ask Harry Reid if he would support Dodd's filibuster. One would also hope to hear from the presidential candidates in the Senate -- such as, say, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -- on these issues some time soon.

UPDATE IV: Russ Feingold (via email): "I am deeply disappointed that [the Senate Intelligence bill] included retroactive immunity for anyone alleged to have cooperated with the Administration's illegal warrantless wiretapping program. . . . If the bill that ultimately reaches the Senate floor includes immunity and does not adequately protect the privacy of Americans, I will fight it vigorously with every tool at my disposal." Part of the reason why Reid's "leadership" has been so ineffective is because he is nowhere to be found on these issues.

UPDATE V: It is undeniably true that this impassioned comment at Booman Tribune expresses the sentiment of many, many people:

I don't care about the machinations of the Senate. I don't care about what the rules are. I just want someone, anyone, to stand up and fight for the principle of the 4th Amendment and the rule of law. Can we have one politician that thinks that allowing the government to spy on Americans without warrant is a big deal? Filibuster this act, put a hold on it, go on a hunger strike, anything. I don't care. Come up with some political stunt. But someone. Please. Someone stand up and fight for this. Jeez. It wouldn't take much. Just look how some of us are applauding the rather tame "fight" Dodd is putting up. The Democrats are ruining their image for decades on this. I can't express the anger I now have for the Democratic party.

It would be one thing if we were talking about some sort of radical new policy or measure that is widely considered "extremist." But the opposite is true. We are talking about the basic linchpins of our form of government -- oversight, warrants, the rule of law, core constitutional liberties, what Atrios described earlier as "everything most of us grew imagining this country stood for. . . .what we all thought were American values."

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And it is, in equal parts, endlessly frustrating, baffling, and infuriating to find that -- with exceedingly rare exception -- there is virtually nobody of any national standing willing to take a stand for those basic political principles in the face of an unprecedented assault, perpetrated first by the Bush administration, followed by the Beltway elite generally. As the reaction to the Dodd announcement yesterday potently illustrated, the passion and anger over these issues are brewing, growing and quite intense.

UPDATE VI: From a Washington Post chat with Joe Biden today:

San Francisco: Will you join Sen. Chris Dodd's hold and proposed filibuster on any FISA bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms? . . .

Sen. Joe Biden: Yes.

The more the better, and that's good to hear. All of the presidential candidates in the Senate (Dodd, Clinton, Obama, and Biden) voted against the August FISA bill because they know these issues resonate with Americans. But we are well past the point where mere pretty statements and symbolic votes are sufficient; only meaningful actions matter.

UPDATE VII: It can't be overstated how starved people are for real leadership on these issues. From Time's Karen Tumulty:

Senator Dodd's campaign communications director Hari Sevugan tells me that $150,000 in small contributions have poured into Dodd's campaign in the past 24 hours . . . . Dodd has raised more small-dollar contributions in the last 24 hours than he did in the previous month. Sevugan also says the number of visits to his website is up tenfold, as is the number of people registering their e-mail addresses there.

All that, from a single announcement to place a "hold" on this bill. Consider the passion that could be generated, the energy that could be harnessed, from sustained and principled leadership.

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I wrote about many of yesterday's developments concerning telecom amnesty and warrantless surveillance in this morning's post, but I want separately to highlight one critical fact. Citing various media reports, Jane Hamsher last night noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- in violation of all Senate customs and rules -- apparently intends, in essence, simply to ignore the "hold" placed on the FISA bill by Chris Dodd and bring the bill to the floor for a vote (and certain passage).

I was somewhat skeptical of that interpretation. The one "principle" which all Senators share is the sacred holiness of their customs and institutional prerogatives. As Jane notes, Reid has never dishonoerd a "hold" before -- even ones placed by the most far-right Republicans Senators. It seemed inconceivable that he would simply refuse to recognize a "hold" by one of the Senate's most senior members on a bill of this importance, and the media accounts seemed vague on that score.

As a result, I emailed Reid's office to ask if they actually intended to override and ignore Dodd's "hold" and this is the patronizing dismissal I received back as a "response" from Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley:

Advertisement:
Reid will work with Dodd and other Senators to correct the deep flaws in the Protect America Act.

Clearly, Reid has nothing but contempt for Dodd's principled stand, which was generated by the actions of tens of thousands of Americans concerned about our constitutional liberties and the rule of law. Reid is dismissively brushing that all to the side -- as usual -- to ensure the safe and smooth passage of a Draconian bill jointly demanded by the Bush administration, the telecom industry, and their lobbyists.

There is a reason that the Democratic Congress has been as accomodating to the Bush agenda, if not more so, than even the GOP Congress led by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert. It is because that is what their leadership, repreatedly, chooses to do. Dodd needs to demonstrate that yesterday was not a one-time event by demanding that his "hold" be honored, and the other Democratic candidates, as well as those in the Senate who claim to want to stop this bill, ought to do more than issue right-worded statements and stand with Dodd to block this bill by any means available.

I wrote about many of yesterday's developments concerning telecom amnesty and warrantless surveillance in this morning's post, but I want separately to highlight one critical fact. Citing various media reports, Jane Hamsher last night noted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- in violation of all Senate customs and rules -- apparently intends, in essence, simply to ignore the "hold" placed on the FISA bill by Chris Dodd and bring the bill to the floor for a vote (and certain passage).

I was somewhat skeptical of that interpretation. The one "principle" which all Senators share is the sacred holiness of their customs and institutional prerogatives. As Jane notes, Reid has never dishonoerd a "hold" before -- even ones placed by the most far-right Republicans Senators. It seemed inconceivable that he would simply refuse to recognize a "hold" by one of the Senate's most senior members on a bill of this importance, and the media accounts seemed vague on that score.

Advertisement:

As a result, I emailed Reid's office to ask if they actually intended to override and ignore Dodd's "hold" and this is the patronizing dismissal I received back as a "response" from Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley:

Reid will work with Dodd and other Senators to correct the deep flaws in the Protect America Act.

Clearly, Reid has nothing but contempt for Dodd's principled stand, which was generated by the actions of tens of thousands of Americans concerned about our constitutional liberties and the rule of law. Reid is dismissively brushing that all to the side -- as usual -- to ensure the safe and smooth passage of a Draconian bill jointly demanded by the Bush administration, the telecom industry, and their lobbyists.

There is a reason that the Democratic Congress has been as accomodating to the Bush agenda, if not more so, than even the GOP Congress led by Bill Frist and Denny Hastert. It is because that is what their leadership, repreatedly, chooses to do. Dodd needs to demonstrate that yesterday was not a one-time event by demanding that his "hold" be honored, and the other Democratic candidates, as well as those in the Senate who claim to want to stop this bill, ought to do more than issue right-worded statements and stand with Dodd to block this bill by any means available.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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