The House on Friday approved a Democratic bill that would set rules for the government’s eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails inside the United States. The bill, approved as lawmakers departed for a two-week break, faces a veto threat from President Bush. The margin of House approval was 213-197, largely along party lines.
You may have heard about this. Republicans (not all, but most) in the House of Representatives have been pushing for both legal support for warrantless wiretaps (a violation of the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, if you ask me) and retroactive immunity for telecoms that willingly — even eagerly — aided in such surveillance before members of Congress even tried to make it legal.
During the drama, Democrats in the House sought to address the matter. Knowing they were outnumbered, pro-surveillance and pro-immunity (or, alternatively, anti-rights) Republicans decided to stage a walk-out (call it a “tantrum” if you like) to display their (impotent) outrage that government officials would be held responsible for their actions in support of illegal wiretaps, particularly as regards providing evidence of what happened for Congress to review. Three Republicans remained (italicized names are Republicans) to vote their conscience, in support of the Bill of Rights.
From a discussion (and feel free to ignore the rampant right-wingnuttery there):
Let’s not jump the gun. I think this stunt by many GOP members DURING A MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR A DEMOCRATIC REPRESENTATIVE is going to backfire on them. Blowback. Unintended consequences. If I were the Democrats, I’d force Bush to veto his beloved warrantless wiretap bill and then impeach him if he allows the wiretaps to continue.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Now, the House has passed a bill that does not grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms. Bush is expected to veto it (from the first link in this SOB entry):
Because of the promised veto, “this vote has no impact at all,” said Republican Whip Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
Also from the same source, an explanation of why Bush and some House Republicans object to the bill:
The president’s main objection is that the bill does not protect from lawsuits the telecommunications companies that allowed the government to eavesdrop on their customers without a court’s permission after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. White House spokesman Tony Fratto called the measure a “political ploy” designed to give Democrats cover for their failure to grant full retroactive immunity to the telecom companies.
Don’t believe Republicans. Again from the same source:
Without that provision, House Republicans said, the companies won’t cooperate with U.S. intelligence.
“We cannot conduct foreign surveillance without them. But if we continue to subject them to billion-dollar lawsuits, we risk losing their cooperation in the future,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
. . . except:
The government does have the power to compel telecommunications companies to cooperate with wiretaps if it gets warrants from a secret court. The government apparently did not get such warrants before initiating the post-9/11 wiretaps, which are the basis for the lawsuits.
So . . . all that crap about how government has its hands tied is just that: crap. The real problem Republicans have, apparently, is that they want the executive branch of government to be able to surveil whoever it wants, whenever it wants, regardless of any probable cause for suspicion or actual evidence of wrongdoing.
The integrity of our criminal justice system rests on the notion that we investigate crimes, not people.
Here’s the kicker in the current spate of things, again from the first link of this SOB entry:
“There is not one iota of evidence that the companies acted inappropriately whatsoever,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif.
That was intended as advocacy for granting retroactive immunity. What really throws me is this:
If there’s no evidence of wrongdoing, there’s no need for immunity.
So . . . we know we shouldn’t believe the mainstream Republicans who oppose the current form of the House bill, because they want a version that provides retroactive immunity to telecoms. What about the Democrats, though?
The Democrats aren’t acting in our best interests, either. Sure, the bill the Democrats have pushed through avoids granting immunity to the telecoms for their complicity in warrantless wiretapping. The main purpose of the bill, however, is to take the place of the old FISA law, which expired in February this year. The purpose of this new bill is, effectively, to make some of the warrantless wiretapping that may yet get some telecoms and government officials in trouble into legal acts in the future — to legalize surveillance of US citizens without meaningful evidence of wrongdoing. That’s why all three of the Republicans who refused to participate in the walk-out (Gilchrest, North Carolina’s Jones, and Paul) and voted with the democrats to hold officials responsible for their part in illegal warrantless wiretapping, have now voted with the rest of the Republicans in opposing the new FISA replacement bill.
I count eleven Democrats who voted on the right side of things — with Republicans — this time around (I may have missed one or two). Kucinich, I know, did so for the right reasons. The other ten, I’m not so sure. You can see the vote results for yourself.