Democrats battle Bush–and each other–over telecom immunity for spying

By Martin Bosworth

Although this Reuters article does a masterful job of burying the lead (as Denny would say), the fact remains–the House Judiciary Committee refused to grant immunity to telecom companies for illegal spying in their FISA law update

[T]he House Judiciary Committee voted 21-14 to reject an amendment sought by the White House that would shield telecommunications firms retroactively from lawsuits for participating in a secret warrantless eavesdropping program launched after the September 11 attacks. The proposed legislation would protect the firms from future lawsuits provided they comply with the law but not from pending suits.

This is a rare and nice show of backbone from the Democrats, particularly given the opposition they faced–not just from Mr. 28 % and the telecom companies he loves, but from their own leadership, especially House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer:

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said providing the immunity will likely be the price of getting President Bush to sign into law new legislation extending the government’s surveillance authority. About 40 pending lawsuits name telecommunications companies for alleged violations of wiretapping laws. Democrats introduced a draft version of the new law Tuesday _ without the immunity language. “We have not received documentation as to what in fact was done, for which we’ve been asked to give immunity,” Hoyer said.

What the fuck? Why is Hoyer acting like this is a compromise on the budget, and not an odious attempt at expanding government surveillance into Americans’ lives, at the cost of the Fourth Amendment and our right to privacy? I can understand the Decider’s desire to consolidate ultimate power in the executive branch–that’s been a hallmark of his entire presidency. But what does Hoyer gain from this?

Is it the money? True, Hoyer received $10,000 in campaign contributions from AT&T last cycle, but that’s chump change–they’re not even his biggest contributor. So what’s the deal? Is Hoyer that determined to show Pelosi that he and the “Bush Dog” Democrats can wield power even in the face of a majority opposed to their wishes? Does he really believe the crap spewed by Bush and DNI Mike McConnell claiming that this will somehow actively secure our country, even without any evidence that it actually works? Is Hoyer so afraid of being seen as weak on antiterrorism issues that he will engage in what Tim Lee astutely calls “preemptive surrender?”

Thankfully, not every Democrat in Congress is suffering such a crippling disease of the spine. As soon as I find out which 21 members of the Judiciary voted to prevent granting the telecoms immunity, I intend to write them a thank-you note. I also will add my support to the efforts of organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press to hold the line against this unacceptable expansion of government power at the hands of the most corrupt administration in modern memory, if not all history.

And you, needless to say, should do the same. Your rights won’t defend themselves.

4 replies »

  1. I appreciate the look-see you took into Steny’s money. Every issue, every time, we ought to be following the money.

  2. Every time you cover one of these issues where the Dems should make a stand and they don’t, Martin, I get this image of a guy standing in the beer aisle looking at two kinds of say, Michelob – the regular and the “lite.” He buys the regular because the difference is about 8 calories.

    It’s like that in Congress now – we have the regular Republicans and the Dems who are the Republicans lite. The difference – about 8 calories.

  3. If the system weren’t constructed as it is, I wonder how many viable political parties we’d have right now. There’s a war under way for the soul of the Dem party – let’s call it “liberals” vs. “Bush Dogs” – and Dobson is threatening to take his Jebus freak right followers and kill the GOP the same way he did Pistol Pete Maravich. Libertarians might align with the GOP Country Club crowd and the Greens would ally with the Liberals. So that’s four, right?

    Glad to see that the telcos didn’t slip out of this one. They may pull it off eventually, but for now this is good news. And how often do we get THAT out of Congress?