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Defying Bush, House Dems Pass a FISA Bill - Sans Immunity

March 14, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Before leaving for a two week Easter recess, House Democrats this afternoon stuck together to pass a revised FISA amendments bill that does not give legal protection to the telecoms. The latest version of the RESTORE Act amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to allow the government to more easily conduct electronic surveillance on foreign targets, while ensuring that an individual warrant, based on probable cause, will be required to eavesdrop on Americans at home or abroad.

Unlike the FISA bill that is favored by the Senate, the RESTORE Act does not give retroactive legal immunity to the telecommunications companies that helped President Bush listen in on phone calls and read emails of U.S. residents without a warrant. Instead, the bill would allow a secure federal district court to review classified evidence and hear arguments from the companies in order to determine whether or not they violated the law.

This provision helped Democrats shore up support among some concerned Representatives because it provides a way for the telecom companies to argue their case in front of a judge without revealing state secrets.

The bill was approved along party line — 12 Democrats crossed over to join every House Republican in in opposing the bill. Here are the dissenting Dems:

Rep. Dan Boren [D, OK-2]
Rep. Michael Capuano [D, MA-8]
Rep. Christopher Carney [D, PA-10]
Rep. Jim Cooper [D, TN-5]
Rep. Bob Filner [D, CA-51]
Rep. Maurice Hinchey [D, NY-22]
Rep. Tim Holden [D, PA-17]
Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D, OH-10]
Rep. Nicholas Lampson [D, TX-22]
Rep. James McDermott [D, WA-7]
Rep. Heath Shuler [D, NC-11]
Rep. Peter Welch [D, VT-0]

President Bush has already threatened a veto. But, as the Washington Post reports, at this point, lawmakers may not be working towards actually getting a FISA bill signed and enacted any time soon:

>The House’s action ensures that Bush will not receive surveillance legislation for several weeks. But some lawmakers from both parties said the impasse is now so deep that the issue may not be resolved until a new president takes office next year.
>
>Bush and Republican lawmakers have shown no desire to move further toward the House Democratic leaders’ position, and the Democrats are showing no sign of buckling under the mounting political pressure.

For some perspectives on what not having a FISA amendments bill enacted means to national security, see this post.

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