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Congress Gives Bush His Wiretapping Bill

July 9, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

After almost a year of wrangling with the White House, Congress on Wednesday finalized a bill to modernize and broaden the government’s ability to wiretap. Twenty one Democrats joined every Republican in the Senate in voting for and passing the wiretapping bill, which, despite a valiant effort by civil libertarian activists, gives retroactive legal immunity to the telecom companies that helped the Bush Administration execute its warrantless wiretapping program from 2001 to 2007.

Before their final vote to pass the bill along to President Bush to be signed into law, the Senate rejected three amendments that dealing with the telecom immunity provision.

The first amendment, which would have struck the immunity provision out of the bill entirely was rejected by a vote of 32-66. Click here to see a list of the Democrats that voted for it.

The second amendment would have only allowed the telecoms to be given immunity if a federal district court decided that the warrantless wiretapping program they participated in was constitutional. It failed by a vote of 37-61 with the support of 35 Democrats, <a href=“http://www.opencongress.org/roll_call/sublist/4849?party=Republican&vote=Aye>one Republican, and ”http://www.opencongress.org/roll_call/sublist/4849?party=Other&vote=Aye">one Independent.

The third amendment would have delayed a decision on immunity by Congress until at least 90 days after they receive a report from the the Justice Department’s inspector general on Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. It would have given Congress, most of who haven’t yet been briefed on what actually happened during the warrantless wiretapping program, a chance to learn what kind of action their vote would be providing immunity for. It fared somewhat better then the other amendments, but still failed on a vote of 42-56. More Democrats voted for this one, but still only one Republican.

Seven Democrats voted against all of the telecom-immunity-altering amendments and voted in favor of the overall bill:

Evan Bayh (IN)
Thomas Carper (DE)
Daniel Inouye (HI)
Mary Landrieu (LA)
Ben Nelson (NE)
Mark Pryor (AR)
John Rockefeller (WV)

…plus Independent-Democrat Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

For a broader outline of how this bill will change the government’s wiretapping policies, see this post from ArsTechnica entitled The new FISA compromise: it’s worse than you think.

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