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Secret session doesn't persuade Dems on FISA

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By Michelle Malkin  •  March 14, 2008 02:39 PM

Just in, via CNN, it looks like the rare secret session in the House didn’t persaude the Dems to support a permanent FISA fix that protects telecoms who cooperate w it the feds on counterterrorism:

The House of Representatives voted Friday to back the Democratic-sponsored revisions to federal surveillance laws.

After meeting in secret Thursday night, the House votes Friday on an update to the FISA bill.

The vote was 213 to 197 in favor of a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill that was backed by the Democratic leadership.

One member voted present.

The vote came after a unique secret session Thursday night in the House. It was the first time the House has met in secret since 1983 .

The Democratic plan would allow telecommunications companies to be sued for their role in the administration’s much-disputed warrantless surveillance program — something that President Bush and GOP allies have railed against.

Bush has spent weeks pressuring the House to grant retroactive legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in the program, initiated after the September 11 attacks.

Bush argues that legal protection is needed for companies to continue cooperating with the government and has vowed to veto the House Democratic proposal, which would allow the lawsuits to move forward in federal courts.

The Senate already has voted to protect the phone companies from lawsuits filed by privacy advocates, who argue that the surveillance program was illegal.

The Democratic plan, however, will allow the companies to argue their cases and present classified evidence to a judge during a closed proceeding without the plaintiffs present.

On Friday, GOP members spoke out against the plan.

“They [Democrats] know, they know the risks they are taking on behalf of the American people and they don’t care … and that’s what bothers me most,” said Republican Rep. Heather Wilson of New Mexico on Friday.

A joint statement from the Department of Justice and the office of the director of national intelligence said that based on initial reports, “We are concerned that the proposal would not provide the intelligence community the critical tools needed to protect the country.”

We’re back to where we started, living in a 9/10 world.

GOP Whip Roy Blunt’s office e-mails:

House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) issued the following statement today after all but 13 Democrats endorsed their leadership’s latest attempt to push through a surveillance bill the Senate will not pass, the president will not sign, and the U.S. intelligence community has deemed unacceptable:

“Even for a Congress with a proven record of over-reaching, the majority’s decision to play politics with critical terrorist surveillance legislation is deeply disappointing. And as they force through another ill-fated and poorly conceived FISA bill today, it’s worth wondering how many intelligence agents would have to testify that vital information is being lost before Democrats hear their message, and finally take up the bipartisan Senate-passed bill.

“Nearly a year has passed since the director of national intelligence identified the need to modernize our outdated surveillance laws, and asked Congress to work with him on finding a workable solution. The Senate has done its part, working with the administration to produce a bill that balances national security with protecting individual rights. But until the House decides to follow suit, our intelligence capabilities will continue to dim – until our agents reach the point where they find themselves completely in the dark.

“It’s my sincere hope the two-week Easter recess imparts in Democrats perspective on this issue they currently do not have. Maybe then they’ll decide to bring forth the bipartisan Senate bill for passage – legislation that arms our intelligence agents with the tools they need to keep us safe, while ensuring the firms that aided our country in the days following September 11th aren’t rewarded for their patriotism with a lawsuit.”

House GOP leader John Boehner’s office points out that the Dems admit their bill is gesture politics:

Lest anyone believe that today’s House vote on new Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation is about anything other than politics, this morning’s CongressDaily AM makes the point crystal clear: even Democratic aides admit the bill – which is only being offered to give Democratic Members something to talk about in their districts – will never become law…

Here’s the roll call.

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Categories: FISA