After an eight-hour mock filibuster by presidential candidate Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pulled a controversial bill that would have given phone companies immunity from lawsuits brought by people who believed their civil rights were abrogated when, after 9/11, the companies gave the government access to their data without requiring a warrant.
Dodd and the other Democratic senators running for president opposed the immunity provision in the bill, which also extends authorization for the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program.
The delay could leave Reid and the Democrats open to attacks that the Democrats are keeping the government from spying on terrorists.
Democrats in the House opposed the immunity provision, but it had gained bipartisan support in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The information the companies provided to the government since the terror attacks is the subject of several ongoing lawsuits.
Reid agreed with Dodd on the issue of immunity but brought the bill to the Senate floor to move it along in the legislative process. The Protect America Act temporarily modified the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to allow the NSA to conduct its warrantless domestic wiretapping program.
Reid said pulling the bill would allow senators to give it a more thorough examination later on. He has called on the White House to provide its classified legal reasoning for the program.
"The Senate is committed to improving our nation's intelligence laws to fight terrorism while protecting Americans' civil liberties," Reid said.
"We need to take the time necessary to debate a bill that does just that, rather than rushing one through the legislative process. While we had hoped to complete the FISA bill this week, it is clear that is not possible," he said.
Dodd took a break from the campaign trail to spend more than eight hours today on the Senate floor, lobbying against the bill that would update the Protect America Act, which Congress passed in August.
"It covers up an immense alleged violation of civil liberties," Dodd said, assailing the telecom immunity provision on the Senate floor.
"This is not some small matter, not a one-time event, but one that went on for five years here in a rather elaborate and extensive way on which I'll go into detail. Immunity is wrong because of what it represents.
"This is a weakening of the rule of law that concentrates power in the hands of the executive," he said.
Dodd had offered an amendment to strip the immunity clause from the bill the Senate is considering.
If his amendment had been rejected, as it was likely to be since a number of key Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee have already approved the immunity clause, Dodd threatened to filibuster on the Senate floor.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he was disappointed by the delay.
"I'm disappointed legislation to modernize and improve FISA will now have to wait until January. As I've said many times, it is one of the most important bills before Congress, and one that should not be rushed in the final hours before the Protect America Act expires."