Reid's FISA UltimatumJanuary 25, 2008 - by Donny Shaw
Perhaps Democrats aren’t going to give President Bush the FISA bill he wants after all. This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stood up at a State of the Union preview speech and issued an ultimatum to President Bush. “The president has to make a decision,” he said. “He’s either going to extend the law, or he will…which is temporary in nature, or there will be no wiretapping.”
More on that in a second. First, some background:
The debate over updating the FISA law, which was begun on Thursday, has been delayed until Monday because of an irresolvable disagreement between Republicans and Democrats over how to deal with amendments. After an amendment that would have struck out the immunity provision (and altered some of the procedural parts of the bill) was rejected, Republicans attempted to use a parliamentary procedure to end debate of the bill, which would have blocked consideration of any other pending amendments. Democrats objected to the move, arguing that a bill as important as this should be held open to a standard debate and amendment process. But, without other procedural options on the table, they were forced to let the Republicans have the vote. It is now scheduled for Monday at 4:30.
Republicans will need 60 votes to cut off debate of the bill; Harry Reid is urging all Democrats to vote “nay.” If they don’t find the votes — and it is expected that they won’t — then Reid’s ultimatum comes into play. What Reid is now saying is that he will not re-open the amendment debacle, but move on to voting on two different bills that would extend the current FISA patch, which is scheduled to expire on February 1st. One bill, S.2556, would extend it for 30 days. The other, S.2557, would extend it for 18 months. One of those extender bills is likely to pass, sending the ball into President Bush’s court to decide whether to temporarily forgo the bill he wanted and sign an extension, or veto an extension bill and open himself to charges of leaving the country vulnerable to security threats.
Here are Reid’s full remarks this afternoon:
>The president has to make a decision. He’s either going to extend the law, or he will…which is temporary in nature, or there will be no wiretapping.
>We have worked very hard to try to come up with a way to proceed on this but it’s up to the President.
>The amendments that were offered in the Senate … they would have passed. The majority of the senate favored these amendments.
>They refused to allow us to vote on what we call "Title 1’ which is a procedural aspect of this, and then they never even dreamed of our going to the second part, which is the retroactive immunity. Which is…there is real controversy over that and there should be a vote in the United States Senate as to whether or not there should be retroactive immunity. They won’t give us one.
>So again, it’s up to the president. He can either continue the present law for an extended period of time, we would agree to two weeks, we would agree to a month, and we would agree to a longer period of time than that.
>But it is up to the president. Does he want the law? It’s up to him.
>If it fails, he can give all the speeches he wants, including the State of the Union, about how we’ve stopped things, if he does that, it’s disingenuous, and it’s not true.
Of course, as the first commenter here says, “actions speak louder than words.”
Tim Tagaris at OpenLeft has a great rundown of some of the political considerations that will be involved in the vote on Monday. This is going to be tightly wound in with the President’s State of the Union speech, which airs later Monday night, and the presidential candidates in the Senate, who, unlike Thursday’s debate, will all be present and voting.
UPDATE: Over the weekend, the administration stated their intention to veto the 30-day extension bill if Cogress passes it. I assume the same goes for the 18-month bill:
>“The president would veto a 30-day extension,” a senior administration official said. “They’re just kicking the can down the road. They need the heat of the current law lapsing to get this done.”