The battle over telecommunications immunity continued Monday with a Senate vote, 76-10, to advance for a floor vote a bill protecting the companies from lawsuits relating to cooperation with national surveillance efforts.
The Times reports that most Democrats voted to move forward, as a bid by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) to block the bill on procedural grounds fell short by a mile. Sixty votes were needed.
Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will introduce his own bill to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which will not include immunity. And the House has already passed FISA legislation that doesn't offer immunity.
“For the last six years, our largest telecommunications companies have been spying on their own American customers,” Mr. Dodd said. “Secretly and without a warrant, they delivered to the federal government the private, domestic communications records of millions of Americans — records this administration has compiled into a data base of enormous scale and scope.”At mid-afternoon today, Dodd promised to filibuster the bill when it comes up for a vote. The Huffington Post reported that Dodd left the campaign trail and was readying himself for the kind of marathon session seen in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
“I have seen six presidents — six in the White House — and I have never seen a contempt for the rule of law equal to this,” Mr. Dodd asserted.
Aides say there are several like-minded Senators who have agreed to pose questions to Dodd during the session, the one way in which he is allowed to stop talking while maintaining the filibuster, according to Senate rules. He is, they say, hoping for all the help he can get including assistance from his White House competitors.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama offered their moral support but won't be leaving Iowa to join the effort.
The fact that Dems voted to advance the bill doesn't mean they'll vote for it. Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D-MA) voted to advance the bill because, he said, the issue is “too important to hold up any longer.” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), said he would amend the bill to protect telcos by having plaintiffs sue the federal government instead of industry.
“The telephone companies have, I believe, acted as good citizens,” Mr. Specter said.
Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), the Democratic majority leader, said he agreed to have both Senate measures considered at the same time because “this process will give senators the opportunity to fully debate the various issues.”