A day after saying he wouldn’t filibuster the FISA compromise passed in the House, Russ Feingold reversed himself and agreed to join Chris Dodd in blocking an end to debate on the bill in the Senate. On Monday, Feingold had assured the New America Foundation that he would speak out against the bill and its telecom-immunity provisions, but that he would stop short of an attempt to block the bill:
Feingold said he and other Senate opponents won’t try to stop the vote, but they “won’t allow it to pass quickly.”
Instead, Feingold, D-Wis., told an audience at the New America Foundation that he plans to highlight the bill’s flaws in floor speeches. There may be several procedural votes before final passage, he added. Feingold said he and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., met with Senate leader Harry Reid last week to discuss their objections.
Yesterday, he and Dodd issued their reversal after hearing howls of protest from the hard-Left base:
This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.
This doesn’t come as a huge shock, as both Senators led a similar effort earlier this year on the Senate’s own compromise bill. That passed with 68 votes, and its telecom immunity provisions were significantly more generous than the House bill now under consideration in its place. The original Senate version didn’t have any court oversight in the granting of immunity, while the House bill requires telecoms to get a finding in district court that they meet the conditions set out for immunity. Feingold has called this a slam-dunk for telecoms, but 68 Senators didn’t even need that to support the last FISA bill.
Feingold’s reversal puts a great deal more pressure on Barack Obama. He initially supported the compromise, reversing the position he took in February, and then tried to pretend that telecom immunity could be separated from the compromise. On Monday, MoveOn demanded that Obama keep his promise to join Dodd and Feingold in filibustering any FISA bill with telecom immunity. Feingold’s reluctance to filibuster the bill had let Obama off the hook, but now the question has been dropped into his lap.
Does Obama join in a filibuster against a bill that he supports? That might be a first for the Senate. It would be a double-reversal reminiscent of Hillary Clinton’s rapid-fire flip-flop on drivers licenses for illegal aliens in New York. If he does not join in the filibuster, he risks alienating a big chunk of the base that got him through the primaries against the Clintons — and his nomination isn’t entirely secured, as the superdelegates that put him over the top can change their minds until the first ballot at the convention. Will the Left press for that if Obama votes in favor of the FISA compromise?
Expect a Profiles in Courage moment when the votes come up for the FISA bill — and expect to see Obama campaigning in some town hundreds of miles from DC.