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Dodd's Filibuster Successful, Spy Bill Postponed

Chris Dodd was the last (and first) man standing in the Senate against the amnesty-granting FISA revision legislation.

Connecticut senator Christopher Dodd's threatened filibuster of a bill giving immunity to telecoms that helped the government spy on Americans unexpectedly carried the day Monday, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to postpone the vote on the measure until after the winter break.

The announcement was an unexpected victory for civil liberties groups, whose anti-immunity fortunes looked grim this morning as the Senate looked primed to pass an expansive spying bill that would free telecoms like AT&T and Verizon from privacy lawsuits.

Dodd showed his moxie and determination all day, as he held the floor for long stretches, railing against an administration-backed bill that would have freed telecoms from 40-odd lawsuits pending against them in federal court.

The presidential candidate threatened to filibuster and hold the Senate floor if the Senate shot down his amendment to strip immunity from the bill. That threat moved Reid to postpone a vote on the bill, so that the Senate could take up war funding bills, a massive domestic spending bill and changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax before the winter break.

Well done, Senator Dodd.

Update: The New York Times covers the news:

In a setback for the White House, Senate Democrats on Monday put off until at least next month any decision on whether to give legal protection to the phone carriers that helped with the National Security Agency's eavesdropping program.

The Bush administration had pushed for immediate passage of legislation to grant immunity to the phone companies as part of a broader expansion of the N.S.A.'s wiretapping authorities. But that will not happen now.

After daylong debate in the Senate on the wiretapping issue, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, announced at the end of the day that there would not be time to consider the legislation this week as he had hoped. With a dozen competing amendments on the issue and an omnibus spending bill separately awaiting consideration, Mr. Reid said he believed it would be difficult to give the wiretapping issue the close consideration that it deserved this week before the Senate leaves for its Christmas recess.

"Democrats are committed to improving our nation's intelligence laws while protecting Americans' civil liberties," Mr. 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."

Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat and presidential candidate, spent much of the day attacking the idea of giving immunity to the phone companies, and he took credit for the delay.

"Today we have scored a victory for American civil liberties and sent a message to President Bush that we will not tolerate his abuse of power and veil of secrecy," Mr. Dodd said in a statement.

"The president should not be above the rule of law, nor should the telecom companies who supported his quest to spy on American citizens," he said. "I thank all my colleagues who joined me in fighting and winning a stay in the rush to grant retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies who may have violated the privacy rights of millions of Americans."

The measure of Dodd's success was making Harry Reid blink (there's more after the jump).

The Washington Post looks at Harry Reid's decision to fold:

Amid deep and growing divisions among Senate Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) last night abruptly withdrew legislation that would have changed surveillance law and granted the nation's telecommunications companies retroactive immunity from lawsuits charging they had violated privacy rights.

Democratic leaders had hoped to complete an overhaul of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before recessing for the year, since the current law governing the Bush administration's warrantless surveillance program is set to expire in early February. But in the face of more than a dozen amendments to the bill and guerrilla tactics from its opponents, Reid surprised his colleagues when he announced there would not be enough time to finish the job.

"Everyone feels it would be in the best interest of the Senate if we take a look at this when we come back," Reid said, acknowledging the time crunch he faces in the "last hours" of this congressional session and the hefty number of agenda items remaining. [...]

"He blinked," Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said of Reid. "It's clear that this was not going to be easy. On the one hand he wanted to rush this process and think he could strong-arm everybody to giving up their rights as senators. They threw sand in the gears."

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the decision had nothing to do with the efforts of Dodd and his allies. Indeed, for most of yesterday, Dodd appeared to be fighting a losing battle. His initial filibuster effort was steamrolled when the Senate voted 76 to 10 to take up the measure at noon.

Dodd vowed he will continue to try to scuttle the bill, which passed with bipartisan support out of the Senate intelligence committee, but he acknowledged "significant divisions" among his fellow Democrats.

"This is one of those critical moments," Dodd said. "If this was the very first instance, you might say this administration has tried to follow the rule of law. But this is after a series, one after another, of this administration stepping all over the Constitution, assaulting it in many ways."

It's been three years since the last Senate filibuster, and it's a procedural tool that saw a lot of use during the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It's fitting that it would be employed in this instance since Dodd is fighting for our rights now.

A hearty Huzzah for Senator Christopher Dodd. Why aren't the other candidates demonstrating their qualifications in their actions, instead of in their make-up and from behind a microphone? I watched Dodd in action today during the filibuster, and was was impressed by his sincerity and fire.

I would love to see Clinton, Obama or Biden take on the administration AND the Senate leadership simultaneously, as Dodd yesterday. I'll try to locate an excerpt or two if I can locate them for later posting.


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Comments (3)

Hmmm. Cloture was invoked, so while Dodd succeeded in postponing the vote until after the recess, debate will be limited when it comes to the floor, and only 51 votes will be required for passage. There will be no further "filibuster" on this bill.

Given its broad bipartisan support, the result is in the bag. With 76 votes for cloture, Dodd will have to turn quite a few Senators around to defeat the bill.

Lee Ward:

Cloture was the mechanism used to move the bill aside, and while the bill is in the bag, the fight to stop telecom immunity continues. For most of yesterday it appeared that would not be the case.

But cloture shuts off the filibuster, so the bill will come to a vote. The bill has far more than enough bipartisan support to pass. The bill grants the telecoms immunity for cooperating in the past.

So, then, exactly how does the "fight . . . continue" against immunity? Delaying the inevitable passage is rather irrelevant, isn't it, since the immunity is retroactive?

Am I missing something here?


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Editors: Lee Ward, Larkin, Paul S Hooson, and Steve Crickmore

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