Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blocking the Telecom Immunity

Two senators, Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), plan to block the passage of the revised FISA bill that grants limited immunity to the telecom companies that abetted the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping, and Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced plans to strip out retroactive immunity from the bill.

For those of you who missed that day in high school civics that discussed the role of the two houses of the federal legislature, this is the object lesson in how a bill doesn’t become law unless both the House and the Senate pass the exact same bill. Chances are that the bill that emerges from the Senate — if it does at all — will not have the immunity provisions, and after the conference committees hammer out the differences, the final bill won’t look a lot like what the House passed originally, and then President Bush will veto it because it doesn’t have his pet provision in it. By the time Congress gets around to trying all over again, we’ll be in the middle of the election campaign — as if we’re not already — and nothing meaningful will happen to the FISA law, unless you call both presidential campaigns using it as a talking point.

This is why I didn’t go volcanic last week when Barack Obama announced his support for the House-passed FISA bill. It was his chance to sound like he was being tough on terrorism without any consequences, and it riled up enough angry responses from the progressives that he could point to them and say, “See, I’m not a total leftie.” For those of you who missed out on the Clinton campaign in 1992, that’s known as triangulation, and I’m pretty sure that this is exactly what Mr. Obama was counting on.

Update: As Bryan points out in the comments, this version of the bill is the final version and can’t be amended, so the filibuster is the only option. Glenn Greenwald reports that Sen. Dodd delivered an impassioned speech against the bill as it stands, and let’s hope that he is able to stop the bill from going forward.