As I predicted yesterday, the compromise bill on FISA reform easily passed in the House today, 293-129. The bill, which provides for court-supervised immunity for telecoms that cooperated with the NSA over the past six years, will quickly get adopted by the Senate and go to the White House for Bush’s signature. One interesting note can be seen in the breakdown of the House vote:
The measure was approved by 293 votes against 129, despite opposition from many Democratic legislators and reservations by expressed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
All of the chamber’s Republican members voted in favor, as did 105 Democrats.
Normally, the majority party shows great reluctance to bring bills for a vote when a majority of their own caucus doesn’t support it. Pelosi brought the compromise to the floor anyway, and watched as her party fractured over the issue. Does that indicate that Steny Hoyer overruled Pelosi? No; she voted for the compromise in the end.
The AFP got one fact incorrect. One Republican did vote against the compromise, Tim Johnson of Illinois’ 15th CD. His website doesn’t indicate why he objected to the bill. I called Rep. Johnson’s office to ask, and they promised to send me a statement. I’ll update this post when I receive it.
Here is the bottom line: Our intelligence agencies will once again have authority to conduct aggressive monitoring of foreign powers, including terrorist organizations, which threaten the United States. In particular, this will be the case overseas — that is, when foreigners located outside our borders communicate with each other. The Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency will essentially be able to collect foreign intelligence without interference from the courts, the status quo ante that was U.S. law for decades before being upset by a secret court ruling last year.
Moreover, the telecommunications companies which patriotically complied with administration requests for assistance in the emergency conditions that obtained after nearly 3,000 Americans were mass-murdered in the 9/11 attacks will receive retroactive immunity. That is, they will be relieved of the potential billions in liability they (and their shareholders and customers) faced in scores of lawsuits.
Moreover, we can now get back to ensuring that we have all of our capabilities focused once again on attack prevention, this time with bipartisan support and the active engagement of Congress. That’s good news for everyone.