Obama bites the bullet on FISA

As the Senate approves amendments to FISA, Barack Obama gets hammered from two different directions.

Published July 9, 2008 8:39PM (EDT)

The U.S. Senate voted today on amendments to FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and Barack Obama remained in a crossfire.

He's been getting pounded in the progressive blogosphere, and even within his own political community, for announcing that he'd vote for the final FISA bill even if it included immunity for telecommunications companies. Meanwhile, John McCain, a relentless supporter of expanded surveillance powers and telecomm immunity as well, is assailing Obama for "flip-flopping" on the issue.

Obama did indeed vote for cloture on the bill (passed 72-26) and for final passage (passed 69-28). Former Obama opponents Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd voted no on both measures; Joe Biden voted yea for cloture and nay on final pasage. Obama did vote for Dodd and Russ Feingold's amendment to strip telecomm immunity from the bill, but had already made it clear he wouldn't stand in the way of final passage.

Obama's FISA critics from the left can be roughly divided between those who consider telecomm immunity as the deal breaker, and who may subsequently forgive him for making a different calculation about whether it was achievable, and those who think the underlying bill is an unconscionable assault on constitutional liberties, and won't quickly get over Obama's ultimate stance.

The FISA attacks on Obama by McCain -- suggesting that the Democrat "flip-flopped" by voting for final passage -- are hard to credit, since Obama, unlike McCain, at least took seriously the tough choices involved in the issue.

But I'm sure Obama would be happy to put FISA behind him until such time as he takes office, and would actually have the power to determine surveillance policies.

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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