Obama’s FISA Shift

Jul 9, 2008 10:14am

“To be clear,” Sen. Barack Obama. D-Illinois, spox Bill Burton told Talking Points Memo last October  about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, “Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.”

Reaffirmed Obama’s Senate office in December: “Senator Obama unequivocally opposes giving retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies and has cosponsored Senator Dodd’s efforts to remove that provision from the FISA bill. Granting such immunity undermines the constitutional protections Americans trust the Congress to protect. Senator Obama supports a filibuster of this bill, and strongly urges others to do the same…Senator Obama will not be among those voting to end the filibuster.”

In February Obama voted in favor of the an amendment from Sens. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., to repeal retroactive immunity for telecoms, saying, “I am proud to stand with Senator Dodd, Senator Feingold and a grassroots movement of Americans who are refusing to let President Bush put protections for special interests ahead of our security and our liberty. There is no reason why telephone companies should be given blanket immunity to cover violations of the rights of the American people – we must reaffirm that no one in this country is above the law. We can give our intelligence and law enforcement community the powers they need to track down and take out terrorists without undermining our commitment to the rule of law, or our basic rights and liberties.”

**

Free from the political pressures of the Democratic primaries, Obama now says he will vote for the FISA bill even if it doesn’t include retroactive immunity for the telecoms.

And moreover, he will no longer support a filibuster of the bill if it doesn’t include telecom immunity.

“My view on FISA has always been that the issue with phone companies per se is not one that overrides security interests of the American people,” Obama told reporters on June 25. “It is a close call for me but I think the current legislation with exclusivity provision that says that a president — whether George Bush, myself or John McCain — can’t make up rationales for getting around FISA court, can’t suggest that somehow that there is some law that stands above the laws passed by Congress in engaging in warrantless wiretaps.”

Obama also said the FISA compromise was an improvement since it would put an “inspector general in place to investigate what happened previously gives us insight what has happened retrospectively. So, you know, that in my mind met my basic concerns and given that all the information I received is the underlying program itself actually is important and useful to American security as long as it has these constraints on them. I thought it was more important for me to go ahead and support this compromise.”

This has disappointed and upset Obama’s liberal supporters — here’s a sample, with Kos hashing it all out on Olbermann.

Or check out the largest social network on Obama’s own website — the 23,000-plus-member strong “SenatorObama-PleaseVoteAgainstFISA.”

Here are the votes today:

* The Dodd-Feingold amendment to strike the FISA bill’s legal immunity for telecoms;

* An amendment from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pen., to limit retroactive immunity for providing assistance to the United States to instances in which a Federal court determines the assistance was provided in connection with an intelligence activity that was constitutional;

* An amendment from Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, to stay pending cases against certain telecommunications companies and provide that such companies may not seek retroactive immunity until 90 days after the date the final report of the Inspectors General on the President’s Surveillance Program is submitted to Congress

That will be followed by a motion to invoke cloture on the full bill (H.R. 6304) as amended — if amended.  This is the “filibuster” vote — to vote for cloture is to vote against a filibuster.

Feingold, for example, will vote against cloture, which requires 60 votes.

If cloture is invoked there will then be a roll-call vote on final passage of the bill.

How will Sen. Obama vote on all these measures?

He will support the Dodd-Feingold, Specter, and Bingaman amendments.

Then regardless of how those amendments fare he will vote to invoke cloture — voting against a filibuster — and for final passage of the bill.

Meanwhile…out on the campaign trail, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, will miss all of today’s votes.

- jpt

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