Buildup To A Discharge: How Some Representatives Are Looking To Force A Vote On FISA

from the dont-follow-the-leader dept

Sources on the Hill report that, in the wake of last week’s dust-up over surveillance reform in the House of Representatives, House Republicans are preparing to circulate a discharge petition, a mechanism that can be used to circumvent House leadership and move a bill directly to the floor to force a vote. The Senate has already passed White House-supported legislation amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to expand the government’s power to eavesdrop on conversations with overseas parties without a warrant — legislation that also includes a controversial provision providing retroactive immunity against civil suits to telecoms that gave the National Security Agency access to customer data without a court order. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has refused to schedule a vote on the House version of the Senate’s bill.

Since, under House rules, that legislation is not subject to a discharge petition as currently engrossed, Reps. Vito Fossella (R-NY), Peter King (R-NY), and Pete Hoekstra (R-MI) have introduced their own version. They are currently gathering informal commitments from legislators while waiting out the 30-day time limit before a petition can be formally circulated.

Since discharge petitions are seen as a direct affront to leadership’s control of the agenda, legislators are generally extremely reticent about signing them: The last time one was used successfully was in 2002, when it forced a vote on Shays-Meehan, the House version of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law. Some members even have blanket policies against signing such petitions. And since they require a simple majority to become effective, Republicans would need to win over many of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats who have urged Pelosi to move forward with the Senate’s version of the FISA bill. And even those willing to break with Pelosi on this issue may have qualms about slapping her in the face quite so overtly.

Instead of being directly used to force a vote, then, a source in the office of a Republican representative projects that the petition will be used to bring pressure directly to bear on Democratic members, and indirectly on the Democratic leadership. The latest assault in that pressure campaign came today in the form of a 24-style scare ad put out by the House Republican Conference, warning of impending terror attacks unless Democrats act quickly to reauthorize warrantless wiretaps.

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Comments on “Buildup To A Discharge: How Some Representatives Are Looking To Force A Vote On FISA”

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Pope Ratzo says:

What a load. How desperate these Republicans are to make people afraid.

Fortunately, Americans are becoming increasingly impatient with this strategy. They’ve gone to the well one too many times on the “give me this power or you’re all gonna die” routine.

Really, what’s so hard about following the Constitution when it comes to wiretapping? Only 30 years ago, the Soviet Union was the “worst threat in the history of the universe”. Now that’s fallen through so we have to have a new even worse “threat to all human existence”. Please.

Anonymous Coward says:

The sad thing is that all the warrentless wiretaps up to this point have provided ZERO. No followup warrents, no charges, no prevention of any form of terror attacks. As far as can be told these warrentless wiretaps have provided a total of 0 intelligence, which has been admitted as much to by those conducting the wiretaps.

There have been several terror attacks prevented since 9-11 and they have ALL been prevented by standard, routine police work.

What I want to know is why is since the court used to issue warrents pretty much just rubber stamps (an issue itself) all requests why is it so critical that the FISA allow warrentless wiretaps be allowed?

Herr Goebbels says:

The truly amazing part of this story is GWB’s threat to veto this if the immunity for the telecoms is not included. Claim #1: terrorists will kill many Americans if FISA is not expanded. Fact #1:GWB has said he will veto the FISA expansion if immunity for telecoms is not included. Conclusion: immunity for telecoms is more important than the lives of many Americans. The man does have his priorities you know.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why the political edge?

I thought it was stated in a blog entry recently that this isn’t a political blog. I’ve been reading for a long time now, and sometime in the last few months there have a been a number of techno-political (is that a word?) posts. I “get” that politics play a role in technology (probably more often then they should). However, these posts seem to focus more on the politics than on the technology. How did we make it for years without this spin, until recently?

Rekrul says:

Why don’t they just go ahead and introduce the bill they really want? The “President is above the law” bill. From now on, none of the laws will apply to the president and anythingt he wants to do is legal. You know that’s the way Bush wants it. He probably already thinks that way anyway.

This whole wiretapping mess perfectly illustrates his way of thinking; “What? Using wiretaps without warrants is illegal? Well hell, let’s make them legal then!” Don’t change your ways to comply with the law, change the laws to comply with your way of thinking!

G Santo says:

I’m sorry, but I’d be very surprised if anyone commenting here knew the first thing about how intel is gathered… and I’ be even more surprised if you really knew what info has been gathered and how it was obtained under FISA. All we, as regular citizens, hear about is (1) what the gov’t wants us to know, which isn’t much, (2) what some traitorous individuals leak out to satisfy their own need to be relevant in some way, and (3) what the media and other anti-Bush sources put out in the usual effort to do damage to the president.
Once again, I must take issue with the original article. The bill is not to “expand” FISA as much as it is to “extend” it. Insuring immunity to the telecoms on this one narrow issue – providing info to the gov’t for intel purposes – is hardly an expansion. It’s just a common-sense inducement to obtain the telecom’s cooperation.
Sorry if my take on this isn’t very liberal, but I personally don’t have any reason to fear the gov’t but have every reason to fear the entities that FISA is meant to target.

G Santo says:

One other thing…the Democrats promised all sorts of changes and reforms when they took over Congress. They haven’t delivered. The weak leadership of Speaker Pelosi is directly responsible for this. She is ripe for a challenge, especially on this issue. She was widely panned for “going on vacation” rather than tackling the FISA issue head-on. They have no problem with going after sports figures over steroid use, but they walk away from their duty when a critical piece of legislation crosses their path? Whether you are for or against FISA, don’t you think Congress should handle their job rather than run from it? To put it simply: Screw the meaningless symbolism and get to work!

Julian Sanchez (profile) says:

The “expansion” alluded to is not the telecom immunity provision. All the various FISA reform bills permit the surveillance of communications between U.S. parties and persons overseas without court order, at the discretion of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. That is unambiguously, whether one approves of it or not, an expansion of the foreign intel surveillance powers granted by FISA.

G Santo says:

And if that’s the case, Mr. Sanchez, I see that more as a refinement than an expansion. Information moves more quickly than ever, as you well know. As IT evolves, I think intel tech and the law have to evolve as well. It’s all well and good to apply old standards of privacy to new issues, but we do so at our peril. I’m not saying apply this to any gov’t entity – the IRS is the first to come to mind as an agency I definitely don’t want snooping in my private life – but in the narrow issue of looking for info going back and forth among those who openly state they want to kill us – I say, go for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

What was the whole NSA scandal about? Listening in on calls? No. It was about calling patterns. Who was talking with whom.

Communications have changed, now, you have phones, you have email, you have chat rooms, you have instant messenger. You have VoIP, it goes on and on. Should we ignore communications now to protect ourselves? Should we look at person a that talked to person b that talked to person c that talks regularly to a terrorist?

You want to know one of the big issues in security is right now? Its conference calling. No one calls each other, they just go to a conference call. How the hell do you work that one out.

Sometimes, if you can’t find the needle, you have to take the haystack.

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