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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

FISA Update—Don’t Hold Your Breath

After passing a fifteen-day extension of the “Protect America Act” early last week, the Senate finally resumed debate of the replacement surveillance legislation yesterday. Leaders on both sides of the aisle came to an agreement about the process for moving forward, and sponsors of the bill’s dozen pending amendments took to the floor to defend their proposals. Just when it seemed that the Senate was poised to vote on those amendments, some of which would vastly improve the feeble legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unexpectedly threw sand in the gears.

Following a motion to end debate on the pending economic stimulus package—a motion that passed 80 to 4—Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was set to proceed on an up-or-down vote on the stimulus package and then turn to the surveillance bill, when Senator McConnell objected. Having voted minutes before to end debate on the stimulus package, Senator McConnell would now “insist on running out the clock on 30 hours of debate.” According to The Las Vegas Sun:

There was no way he could proceed without reading [the two-page stimulus bill]. Under Senate rules, he gets 30 hours to review, and he was going to take them. In the meantime, he would not assent to votes on the wiretapping bill.

Senator McConnell’s surprise announcement drew the immediate ire of Senator Reid, who accused him of attempting to delay votes on the surveillance legislation and force the Senate into a last-minute rubberstamping vote of the Bush Administration’s preferred bill. Visibly frustrated, Senator Reid declared, “I am dismayed that we are going to have to stay in session tonight and do nothing, and stay in session tomorrow and do nothing.”

While the Senate remains paralyzed on the surveillance bill, President Bush has taken this opportunity to renew his veto-threat of any surveillance legislation that does not retroactively immunize telephone companies for their participation in his illegal warrantless wiretapping program.

The Senate will resume consideration of the bill after Senator McConnell’s legislative “time-out” has expired. Tell your Senators to reject immunity, insist on oversight, and rebuff the Bush Administration’s assertion that it can secretly spy on innocent Americans without repercussions.

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