Congress wrestles over spying bill
Many Democrats are at odds with their own leadership over extending domestic surveillance.
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On the campaign trail, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, endorsed the House compromise, as expected. "For months, House Democrats, the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], and the trial lawyers have held up legislation to modernize our nation's terrorist surveillance laws. Today, the House passed a compromise bill to end this impasse," he said in a statement.Skip to next paragraph
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"Given the legitimate threats we face, providing effective intelligence-collection tools with appropriate safeguards is too important to delay," he said in a statement after the House vote.
"So I support the compromise, but do so with a firm pledge that as president, I will carefully monitor the program," he added.
The votes in favor of the bill by top House Democrats, including Speaker Pelosi, majority leader Hoyer, and majority whip James Clyburn (D) of South Carolina, could lend Senator Obama political cover in this week's vote, say aides on both sides of the aisle.
In the end, House Democrats didn't have the votes to keep a compromise off the floor indefinitely.
In the run-up to the vote, 21 conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats sent party leaders a letter insisting on immunity for telecom companies.
With the Blue Dogs, "there were 230 votes to bring the Senate bill [including immunity] to the floor," said Hoyer after the vote. That calculus forced a compromise that many party leaders had been reluctant to make.
Democrats, including their likely presidential nominee, are "very hesitant to reinforce the post-Vietnam era image that Democrats are not prepared to defend the country," said Mr. Blunt, the lead Republican negotiator on the bill.
Another element that sealed a compromise deal was the inclusion of language declaring the "exclusivity" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) as a legal basis for surveillance for intelligencegathering purposes. This provision, first introduced by Reps. Adam Schiff (D) of California and Jeff Flake (R) of Arizona, aimed to rein in President Bush's claim of constitutional authority to eavesdrop on Americans without court approval – and in violation of the FISA law.
"Congress is set to pass a measure that says otherwise," says Congressman Schiff.
On the Senate side, the chief opponent of the House compromise, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) of Wisconsin, says that while there are some improvements in the bill, "The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation."