As expected the Senate passed the FISA bill today complete with full immunity for the telecoms who participated in President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The bill passed by a vote of 69-28.
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama held to his word by voting in favor of the Dodd-Feingold amendment that would have removed the telecom immunity from the bill, but the amendment failed to pass by a vote of 32-66. Democratic heavyweights Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and Robert Byrd all voted to remove the immunity clause from the bill, but Obama voted for the final bill.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) that would have required the lawsuits be dropped unless a federal court found that the government violated the law was withdrawn after the vote was 61-37 opposed. Another amendment that would have held off dismissing the lawsuits until after Congress got a report on the bill failed by a vote of 42-56.
Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) explained why he opposed the bill, “I opposed the version originally passed by the Senate. And although improvements have been made in the version now before us, this legislation continues to contain provisions that will lead to immunity for the telecommunications companies who cooperated with the Bush Administration’s illegal warrantless wiretapping program. For that reason, I will vote no.”
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) talked about the importance of getting the telecom immunity out of the bill, “These lawsuits may be the last chance to obtain a judicial ruling on the lawfulness of the warrantless wiretapping program. It’s bad enough that Congress abdicated its responsibility to hold the President accountable for breaking the law. Now it is trying to absolve those who allegedly participated in his lawlessness. Mr. President, this body should be condemning this administration for its law-breaking – not letting the companies that allegedly cooperated off the hook.”
Of course Feingold is right, but with this being an election year, and both Democrats and Republicans being terrified of voting against something that could be painted by their opponents as softness on terrorism, passage of this bill was a given. This is a sad day for American privacy rights, and this bill sets a precedent that will almost certainly come back to haunt us later.