Democratic House leaders have emerged from negotiations with their Senate counterparts on the new surveillance bill with a draft proposal, a senior House aide says. See update below.
The proposal, the contents of which the aide described to me, does not contain a measure granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms for their participation in the warrantless surveillance program. The aide also stressed that the bill “is in the exact same ballpark” in terms of civil liberties protections as the RESTORE Act, the bill which the House passed last year. The draft as described by the aide:
— requires an audit by the Department of Justice’s inspector general of the administration warrantless wiretapping program (not in the Senate bill)
— has a two-year sunset, as opposed to the Senate’s surveillance bill, which has a six-year sunset
— has an “exclusivity” provision, which specifies that the President cannot circumvent the bill with claimed Constitutional powers (not in the Senate bill)
— has guidelines to prevent the NSA from tapping foreigners’ communications into the U.S. when the real intention is to target a U.S. person, which is called “reverse targeting” (not in the Senate bill)
— requires pre-approval by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of the “basket warrants” (surveillance of entire terrorist groups, as opposed to just individuals) allowed by the House and Senate bills, except in emergency situations, where the government must seek approval within seven days after initiating surveillance. (also in contrast to the Senate bill)
Of course, just because the House bill does not have retroactive immunity does not mean that the final bill to arise from the process will not. As the Politico reported last night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) now favors a strategy of “ping-ponging” alternatives back and forth between the two chambers. What that means is that the House could vote out a bill that does not contain retroactive immunity, but that the Senate could vote to add it back in, sending that back to the House, where such a modified bill might pass with the help of moderate Democrats. Of course, such a strategy could also lead to stalemate, as the Politico points out.
At the very least, it’s clear that the process is far from over. We’ll have more on this in a bit.
Update: Stop the presses! Wendy Morigi, Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) spokeswoman, tells me that Rockefeller would not agree to a bill that fits the above description, but would give no specifics. All she could say was “we continue to work with the House to try and find agreement and resolve the differences between the House and Senate bill.”
We’ll have more as learn more about what is going on here. Rockefeller, the Senate intelligence committee chairman, is obviously the lynch pin of any possible compromise. The only logical inference for now is that House Dems are circulating a draft bill without having hashed out every detail with him.