The principled, honest House Republicans

Three weeks ago, the House GOP mocked the Democrats' proposal for a closed session to debate FISA as a dangerous gift to the terrorists. Today, they demanded a closed session to debate FISA.

Published March 13, 2008 7:10PM (EDT)

(updated below)

Back in February, when the House was preparing to vote on whether to extend the Protect America Act, House Intelligence Committee Member Rep. Rush Holt and several other House Democrats proposed that the House enter into a secret session to have a real debate about the merits of the legislation. This is how House Republicans reacted to that proposal, from The Hill, February 26, 2008:

Liberal House Democrats are pushing for a closed session to discuss the legal underpinnings of President Bush’s intelligence surveillance program.

They believe that the more members know about it, the less likely they will be to support Bush's wish to make it permanent.

“I haven't heard anything in closed session that makes me think we need the Protect America Act,” said Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), an Intelligence Committee member, referring to a White House-backed interim wiretapping bill that lapsed this month. . . .

[House Minority Leader John] Boehner's spokesman, Kevin Smith, derided the secret session proposal as a stalling tactic.

"There are clear rules and procedures for how Congress handles classified information," Smith said. "This nonsense is nothing more than another stalling tactic from a bunch of liberals who don't want to give our intelligence officials all the tools they need to keep America safe."

Fast forward to today, a mere three weeks later. The House Democratic leadership has scheduled a vote on the rather decent FISA bill they unveiled earlier this week, and House Republicans are eager to block the vote because they fear it will pass. This is what House Republicans are doing today to prevent a vote, from CQ:

House Republicans planned to seek a rare closed session Thursday to debate a Democratic leadership-backed rewrite of electronic surveillance law. . . .

Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio said the House needs to have an "open and honest debate about some of the important details about this program, that don't need to be heard in public."

Boehner today used almost exactly the same language used by Holt three weeks ago to justify a closed debate session -- a session which, just three weeks ago, Boehner's own spokesman said was "nothing more than another stalling tactic from a bunch of liberals who don't want to give our intelligence officials all the tools they need to keep America safe." House Republicans hate it when people play politics with national security.

I'll add updates to this post as the House vote on the FISA bill proceeds. The CQ article reports that the House Democratic leadership is "whipping pretty aggressively" on this bill and that it now appears to have the support of a substantial number of "Blue Dogs" (McJoan has some more details on that). And preliminary reports I have, thus far unconfirmed, suggest that the Speaker's office will first agree to Boehner's request to hold a secret session to enable full and open debate, and then proceed to a vote.

This morning, the President gave his latest "pass-the-bill-I-want- or-be-slaughtered-by-the-Terrorists" speech and, although he recited his standard false, fear-mongering points, he included this particularly creepy and Orwellian formulation to justify his demands for telecom amnesty:

And this litigation would be unfair, because any companies that assisted us after 9/11 were assured by our government that their cooperation was legal and necessary.

Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future.

George Bush really believes -- and is outright telling us -- that when he orders private citizens to do something, and they obey, then it means that -- even if what they're doing is illegal -- they are acting "patriotically" and should be protected from all consequences. Are there any monarchs left anywhere in the Western World who even claim such a power -- to be able to order citizens to break the law? That's been a discredited "principle" since at least the Nuremberg Trials, yet this warped assertion of monarchical powers really is the central premise of the case for telecom amnesty.

Continuing with their uncharacteristic though (for now) commendable defiance of the Leader, Nancy Pelosi gave a news conference this morning and made clear that the President was spewing falsehoods when he accused the House Democrats of making us vulnerable to the Terrorists with their latest FISA bill. Here was one representative exchange:

Even after seven years of justifying every corrupt and radical policy imaginable via blatantly false invocations of "national security" and "Terrorism," the President can still utter those words and cause members of the media and others to quiver in fear, as though he has credibility on those matters ("but the President says this is necessary to be safe!"). Pelosi ought to issue many more clear statements like this reminding Americans that the President is the last person whose word on such matters ought to be trusted. A solid majority of Americans have reached that conclusion largely on their own, even though the Beltway media hasn't and won't.

UPDATE: The House accepted Boehner's request to debate for one hour in a secret session. Nothing of any significance will happen there. It's just a delaying tactic by the Republicans because they fear they will lose the vote and the House will pass the good bill. The vote will occur tomorrow morning.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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