Monday, June 23, 2008

Go down fighting.

The compromise capitulation FISA bill is horrible, but at least the provisions of Part I relating to the executive branch can, in theory, be reversed in the next Congress.

Retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms is forever. The precedent it would set is also permanent. That makes it worth fighting hard to strip immunity from the Senate version of the bill.

An amendment to do that will probably [see Update] be offered, even if only to give Sen. Obama and others a chance to register opposition to immunity before voting for the bill as a whole. But calls and faxed letters to Senators are needed now to make sure that an amendment to remove telecom immunity materializes.

There is currently no sign of any filibuster planned, by Sen. Dodd or anyone else. Nor will there be. [see Update] Majority Leader Reid filed and 17 Democrats signed a cloture petition today. Together with 49 Republican votes, that's well more than the 60 needed to limit debate. So it's on.

Update: 6:15 pm, 24 June - Sens. Dodd and Feingold issued a statement today [emphasis added]:

This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation.

So it's still on. The filibuster will almost certainly fail; every effort has to be made to get the votes to kill immunity. End update.

As to timing, commenter cboldt at Firedoglake watched today's Senate proceedings on C-SPAN2 so you didn't have to and reports [my emphasis]:

I was looking for (and saw) a procedural move that sets some parameters for handling of FISA. A cloture vote will happen Wednesday (unless the objectors agree to compress the time provided for in the rules), and then, if the objectors stick to the time frame provided in the rules, the FISA bill won’t be made formally pending until an additional 30 hours have elapsed.

Make the most of the time between now and Wednesday at 10:00 am, by getting your Senators on the record on their position on a no-immunity amendment. Sen. Specter (R-PA) spoke out against immunity today, for what it's worth, but also announced his intention to vote for the overall bill whatever happens. (This recapitulates his performance on the Military Commissions Act two years ago, when he introduced and voted for the amendment to restore habeas corpus protections, and then, when the amendment failed narrowly, voted for the bill anyway.)

Toll-free phone numbers for Congress and other useful links are at the end of this post by Christy Hardin Smith. She offers another helpful tip in comments:

it’s a good idea to contact these folks at local offices — which don’t often get calls and FAXes, so when they do get several on a single issue, they get a bit more notice. And sometimes you get a much more receptive ear from the staffer on the issue as well.

It can be especially useful to talk with the local office because, occasionally, you’ll get a heads up on a potential local appearance and information on how to get a sit-down or at least an opportunity to talk with your Senator in person when they are in the area. THAT can be very, very useful.

Senators' web site URLs are all in the form of [lastname]; find their listing of offices and start now to build a relationship with the staffers nearest you.

There is no grassroots constituency for immunity to lawbreaking telecoms; it's only money talking. That, and the desire of everyone who was complicit in warrantless spying on American citizens to shut down any chance that we'll discover what was done to us.

Update 2: 28 June, 9:10 am - Via Emptywheel, the vote will come on July 8th, and three amendments will be offered:

  • Dodd-Feingold-Leahy to strip the immunity provisions. Needs 51 votes to pass; we got 32 in February (I'm glaring at you, Jim Webb).

  • Specter to do I'm not sure what "allow the court [what court?] to deny telcoms immunity if it found that the government's surveillance activities were unconstitutional" (EFF, see below); 60 votes needed.

  • Bingaman to stay the court cases until I'm not sure when the report of an investigation into the program by the Dept. of Justice Inspector General is released; the investigation is mandated by the FISA bill. 60 votes needed.

    Update 3: 6:45 pm, July 1 - Electronic Frontier Foundation explains the amendments here. EFF urges all Senators to support the Bingaman amendment if the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy amendment to strike the immunity provision fails, so that Congress can know what it's immunizing before doing so. The hope is that Congress might revisit and reverse the immunity decision then; the idea is to keep the cases against the telcoms alive to allow for that possibility.

    Image by Mike Harding used by permission.

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    At 4:55 PM, June 26, 2008, Blogger eRobin said...

    So what's up with it now? It's going to take heroic measures to stop it now, right? Will there even be an opportunity to filibuster it the old fashioned way?

    At 9:02 AM, June 28, 2008, Blogger Nell said...

    I should update. The vote will come on July 8th, and three amendments will be offered:

    Dodd-Feingold-Leahy to strip the immunity provisions (51 votes to pass; we got 32 in February).

    Specter to do I'm not sure what; 60 votes needed.

    Bingaman to stay the court cases until I'm not sure when; 60 votes.

    There won't be a filibuster after the scale of the cloture vote on Wednesday. The only real hope is to strip immunity, and that's a struggle. Will only take a few Democratic no's to kill.


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