Harry Reid's FISA games

The Senate majority leader appears poised to ensure that the Bush administration gets everything it wants on telecom immunity and new FISA eavesdropping powers.

By Glenn Greenwald

Published December 14, 2007 8:06AM (EST)

(updated below)

The Senate is going to take up debate today on the new FISA bill -- including the provisions for telecom amnesty and presidential surveillance powers -- and Harry Reid is apparently bringing the bill to the floor (a) in precisely the way designed to help the administration's goal of ensuring there is telecom amnesty and fewer surveillance oversight protections and (b) contrary to the way his office has been assuring everyone concerned that it would be done.

I am traveling today (the last day for some time, thankfully) and will not be able to write more until much later today. FireDogLake and others will undoubtedly have updates throughout the day, more thorough explanations than I can provide now, and suggestions as to what can be done.

The summarized version is that there were two competing bills which Reid could have brought to the floor -- the Senate Intelligence Committee version engineered by Jay Rockefeller and Dick Cheney which gives the administration most of what it wants, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which does not contain telecom amnesty and contains far more extensive oversight protections. Reid could have brought the bill to the floor using whatever process he wanted, and he has decided -- contrary to weeks of assurances -- that the SIC bill will serve as the "base" bill, meaning that improving it (by removing amnesty and increasing oversight) will require 60 votes, rendering such efforts virtually impossible. In doing so, Reid is brazenly ignoring the demands of 14 Senators -- including all of the Democratic presidential candidates -- to have the Judiciary Committee bill be the base bill.

Worse still, Reid is completely disregarding the "hold" placed by Chris Dodd on any amnesty bill -- simply refusing to honor it, even as he respectfully honors literally scores of "holds" from GOP Senators such as Tom Coburn. And while Dodd is interrupting his campaigning to fly to Washington to lead the filibuster he vowed, Reid has ensured with scheduling manuevers that the filibuster will take place only over the weekend -- when all of the members are away raising money anyway and journalists aren't paying attention -- with the intent to try to force cloture once everyone returns on Monday.

There are two key objectives for today: (1) do as much possible to pressure Reid to honor Dodd's hold and (2) do as much possible to encourage the presidential candidates and others to actively support Dodd's filibuster, not merely in a cursory way, but through authentic leadership. At least as of now, Reid is the clear villain here, doing everything possible to enable the Bush/Cheney FISA agenda on telecom amnesty and surveillance powers, and doing everything possible, yet again, to ensure that Senate Democrats stand up to nobody except their voters and their base who put them in power.

Reid is extremely vulnerable in Nevada and if he follows through with his stated plans, those vulnerabilities ought to be exploited to the fullest, whether it be with anti-Reid ads in Nevada to drive his numbers even lower or concerted, all-out support for a serious primary challenge to Reid's re-election bid in 2010, etc. Until Congressional Democrats know that there are consequences from siding with the administration and attacking their actual suppoters, they will continue to do that. Anyone interested should continue to check in with FDL and others for further updates today.

UPDATE: The availability of wireless airport internet service permits me to make this additional point: Whenever complaints are voiced about Congressional Democrats, invariably there arises in comments and elsewhere protests that complaints should only focus on Republicans, that most everything is their fault, and that Democrats are doing the very best they can but are simply helpless due to GOP tactics and the constraints of their own caucus. I rarely answer such protests because I know that Democrats will soon provide an answer with their actions far more compelling than any I could construct with words.

Today, they provide but the latest iteration of the answer as to why there is so much dissatisfaction and anger towards them, including from those who fully recognize the pragmatic constraints involved. This isn't a case where they are trying to oppose Bush's demands on telecom amnesty and warrantless surveillance powers but are sadly thwarted by a lack of votes. Rather, Harry Reid is doing everything he can to thwart those who are attempting to impede Bush's demands and thus doing everything he can to ensure that the White House is liberated from the prospect of accountability for past lawbreaking and vested with vast, new eavesdropping powers with as little oversight as possible -- just as Mitch McConnell would be doing if he were Majority Leader (though even McConnell might lack the audacity to simply run roughshod over Dodd's hold, as Reid is apparently doing -- while treating Tom Coburn's holds as sacred).

Put another way, the issue isn't that they're failing to impose limits on the President. It's not even that they're failing to do everything they can to do so. The issue is that they are devoting their efforts and energies -- again -- to ensuring that the White House wins, its radicalism enabled and bolstered, and the people who support them thwarted in what they believe.

The criticism isn't that Harry Reid is being insufficiently aggressive in opposing the White House. It's that he's doing what he can to support the White House, serving as their key ally. I suppose one option is to cheer on Democrats anyway, no matter what they do. But I can't understand how anyone who actually believes in anything other than partisan power for its own sake would consider that option to be an attractive one.

Glenn Greenwald

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