Telecom Immunity Remedy Fails in Senate

Adele Stan

Attempts in the Senate to retool the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act featured this week a two-day debate on an amendment sponsored by Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Russell Feingold, D-Wisc., that would have stripped legislation for the Protect America Act of immunity for telephone and internet providers who complied with government requests for information on consumers' calls and e-mails in violation of privacy law. That amendment just failed, 32-66. (My colleague, Brian Beutler, who usually covers intelligence matters, is on leave this week. Last week, he interviewed Feingold about FISA.) In one of the last speeches before the vote, Dodd forcefully argued against the "false dichotomy" put forward by his amendment's opponents between "security and civil liberties." Dodd added, "It's a false dichotomy. Previous generations have made it; we should not." Both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted for the Dodd-Feingold amendment. (Obama, to much consternation, has indicated that he will vote for the Protect America Act even without the telecom immunity provisions, because of compromises made in other areas of the bill.) Two senators who are often talked up as potential veep candidates on the Obama ticket -- Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri -- voted against the amendment. In other words, they voted to protect the telecoms. (Note: Webb yesterday seemed to take himself out of the contest for running-mate.) Other Democrats voting against the amendment were Barbara Mikulski, Md.; Jay Rockefeller, W.V.; Blanche Lincoln, (Ark.); Mary Landrieu, La., and Dianne Feinstein, Calif. Arlen Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican who Republicans love to hate, after voting against Dodd-Feingold, offered his own, more narrowly drawn, amendment, which also failed, 37-61.

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Adele M. Stan is AlterNet’s Washington bureau chief. Her work has also appeared in The New Republic, the Village Voice, The Nation, The Advocate, Salon​.com, the Washington Blade and Mother Jones magazine, as well as on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Daily News. She began her media career at Ms. magazine, where she served both on staff and as a contributing editor.
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