The administration threw everything it had at the Democrats. Statement after statement after statement on the White House lawn. TV ads, web ads. Letters from the attorney general and director of national intelligence raising the alarm about the danger the country is in. Even a TV appearance by the DNI himself to highlight the “increased danger.”
And what did it get them? At the end of last week, nearly a month after the Protect America Act lapsed, the House passed a bill that does not contain retroactive immunity — the bill even contains a provision that dispenses with the administration’s main legal argument for blocking the lawsuits, the state secrets privilege.
So what now? No one on the Democratic side of the aisle seems to have bought the administration’s line that the lapse of the Protect America Act is cause for concern. Wiretaps authorized by that law can go until August of this year. Wiretaps of new targets would have to be authorized under the old FISA law. But the authorities granted by the PAA are so broad (it authorizes wiretaps of entire terrorist groups) that as of two weeks after the law’s lapse, no warrants of wiretaps for new targets had yet been required. That makes the administration’s claim that such warrant requests will create a mountain of paperwork look pretty silly.
There seems to be a definite lack of urgency (despite the Republicans’ terrifying web ad). And as the Politico reports, that lack of urgency on top of the considerable differences between the House and Senate surveillance bills — most evidently on the issue of retroactive immunity — means that the prospects for passing any bill through both houses appear dubious:
âI donât know if there is a dire need to get it done tomorrow,â said one Senate Democratic aide. âObviously we would like to see a resolution on this, but that is really hard to do when the House is voting on legislation that wonât pass the Senate and Republicans wonât even come to the table.â
Both houses are in recess for the next two weeks. And when the Senate gets back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has planned a push on economic issues. How surveillance will fit into that agenda when the Senate likely doesn’t have the 60 votes to even begin debate on the House’s bill is not at all clear. And even if the Senate did pass something eventually, the distance between the House leadership and key Senate Democrats like Senate intelligence committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on the issue of immunity makes the fate of such a bill unsure.
One thing that is sure is that conservatives think they have a winner of an issue here. So either from billionaire-funded attack groups or the Republican Party committees, the ads targeting House Democrats on the issue will keep coming. So far, however, such ads have had zero impact.
If no bill does pass in the next couple months, the next flashpoint seems likely to be July, shortly before the wiretaps authorized under the Protect America Act will actually begin to lapse.* You can be sure that the administration will mount another offensive. We’ll see if that one is any more successful.
*Update: This post originally said that the authorizations under the Protect America Act will lapse in August. The authorizations are good for one year, meaning that authorizations from August of 2007 will lapse that month, but later authorizations will not lapse until a full year after their initiation. Thanks to TPM Reader CR for the fix.