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Well, one down. The Senate just voted to kill (table) the Senate Judiciary Committee's surveillance bill, which did not contain retroactive immunity for the telecoms. The vote was 60-36 to table, with a number of Dems crossing over. As we said earlier, a number of other amendments will also go up for votes this afternoon.

Among the Democrats voting to kill the SJC bill were Sens. Mark Pryor (AK), Daniel Inouye (HI), Claire McCaskill (MO), Mary Landrieu (LA), Ken Salazar (CO) and Tim Johnson (SD).

Update: The final tally was actually 60-36, not 60-34, and the full list of Dems voting to kill were: Sens. Evan Bayh (D-IN), Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), and Ken Salazar (D-CO).

From the AP:

Ending months of resistance, the White House has agreed to give House members access to secret documents about its warrantless wiretapping program, a congressional official said Thursday.

The Bush administration is trying to convince the House to protect from civil lawsuits the telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on Americans without the approval of a court. Congress created the court 30 years ago to oversee such activities.

House Intelligence and Judiciary committee members and staff will begin reading the documents at the White House Thursday, said an aide to Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.


They asked for the documents last May and finally got them now as the debate over the surveillance rages and will probably culminate this weekend. Nice.

Remember that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked for the full Senate to have access to such documents last year, a request that seems to have been ignored.

For most of the hearing this morning, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson has been doing his bureaucratic best to descend into minute discussions of the law ("Section 209" of the Clean Air Act is a favorite hobby horse), extended discussions of process, and the like. But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) didn't have time for that.



Every time Sanders asked a question and Johnson made his monotone parry, Sanders struck back to the heart of the issue.

Is global warming a major crisis facing the planet? he wanted to know.

"I don't know what you mean by major crisis," Johnson responded.

"The usual definition of the term "major crisis" would be fine." The reason Sanders wanted to know, he said, is that Johnson's decision to deny the waiver would make sense if the Bush administration didn't think global warming was something worth getting worked up about.

Johnson chose "serious issue" as his preferred term, and then returned to discuss Section 209 again.

Sanders wanted to know if Johnson thought that global warming was due to human activity. It took Johnson a paragraph and another exchange to say yes.

Then do you believe that "bold action" is needed to reverse it? Sanders wanted to know.

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So here is where the FISA debate, which kicked off in earnest this morning, stands.

The first vote today will be on the Senate Judiciary Committee's version of the surveillance legislation, which contains no retroactive immunity for the telecoms who collaborated with the administration's warrantless wiretapping program. That will be at two o'clock this afternoon. There is no agreement that such a vote meet a 60-vote threshold, so when the Republicans move to block that bill, the vote will be held on a 50-vote threshold. If they win that vote, then the bill will revert back to the Senate intelligence committee's bill, which has a retroactive immunity provision.

After that will come a number of amendments, among them Sens. Chris Dodd's (D-CT) and Russ Feingold's (D-WI), which contains a provision to strip the immunity from the bill. Reid says that he supports such a bill. And he said today that Republicans will have to actually filibuster if they want to stop any of the amendments from getting a simple majority vote:

"As I have said before, if there are Senators who don't like these amendments and think they should be subjected to 60-vote thresholds, these Senators are going to have to engage in an old-fashioned filibuster. These amendments are by and large germane, and I believe they should be adopted if a majority of the Senate supports them."


You can Reid's entire statement here.

When Reid said something similar yesterday, a number of people interpreted it as in reference to Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) who has said that he would filibuster any bill that contained retroactive immunity. Now it seems as if that remark was meant for everyone.

As for what happens next, I think we'll just have to wait and see. We'll keep you updated.

The EPA's catch-us-if-you-can game with Congress is not the norm, Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said in kicking off this morning's hearing (airing on C-Span), declaring, "In all my years in the House and the Senate, I've never seen such disregard and disrespect.... I've never seen anything like it."



She went on to describe what her staff had to do to actually take notes on the EPA staff's recommendation on California's greenhouse gas waiver, even producing a visual aid. The documents with "sensitive" information on them had been covered with white tape, she said, and her staff had to pull it off to see -- a task which took 5 1/2 hours to review 46 pages (read what they said here). She produced a visual aid, a heap of the tape; saying "this is what they did to us."

Update: Here's the transcript:

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Though the CIA recently asserted that Bhutto was assassinated by al-Qaida, Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism chief admits that "there's gaps in intelligence," because "we don't have enough information about what's going on there. Not on al-Qaida. Not on foreign fighters. Not on the Taliban." Dailey said this makes him "uncomfortable," especially since more than 40% of Pakistanis support or feel sympathetic to al-Qaida. (ABC's "The Blotter")

Already facing a variety of legal problems, Blackwater may soon be facing financial ones as well. The security company's contract with the State Department runs out in May and with the ongoing investigations into the company's activities in Iraq - and the possibility of indictments in the future - it's possible that the contract will not be renewed. (Time)

Though one might consider suicide to be the ultimate bad side effect of any drug, for decades the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has paid scant attention to the psychiatric impact of medicines. The FDA has changed course and set new rules - perhaps the "most profound changes of the past 16 years" - but the agency's new policies remain hidden from the public because FDA oversight of experimental drugs is conducted in secrecy. (New York Times)

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Finally, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson gets to show what stuff he's made of. Is he your garden variety Bush appointee who shoots off arbitrary and lawless decrees from behind his desk? Or is he the type who'll go before Congress, lead with his chin, and declare his loyalty from the rooftops?

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate environmental committee, rolled out the red carpet for Johnson yesterday, when she released notes that her staff had taken on internal EPA briefing documents (you can see them below). They showed, as has been reported, that Johnson's staff recommended granting California's petition to limit greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks. But Johnson ignored that and denied it anyway.

It was a battle for Boxer's committee just to see these documents. The EPA sent over heavily redacted versions, arguing that they were protected by executive privilege -- specifically that cherished privilege against "needless public confusion" over the staff advising one thing and the political appointees declaring another.

Since the EPA leadership refused to release the offending documents, Boxer's staffers had to go over and copy them themselves. Reports the AP, "EPA officials asked that the information be kept private, but Boxer's staff told EPA they wouldn't agree to that condition, and they released the excerpts to reporters Wednesday."

So what was Johnson's rationale? He said in his two-page letter that global warming is "fundamentally global in nature" and so California didn't meet the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" necessary to pass such a law. But his staff had said just the opposite: "California continues to have compelling and extraordinary conditions in general (geography, climatic, human and motor vehicle populations - many such conditions are vulnerable to climate change conditions) as confirmed by several recent EPA decisions." And if Johnson went ahead and denied the waiver anyway, his staff told him, California would sue, and as one briefing slide told him, "EPA likely to lose suit."

That suit, led by California and joined by 15 other states (Massachusetts, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) is pressing on.

You can expect Johnson to stick to his guns, even as he tips his hat to his staff for a job well done (though ignored). ("What it shows is quality staff work," Jonathan Shradar, acting EPA press secretary, said of the excerpts.) He's also sure to be grilled about whether he decided to buck his staff on his own:

Among the questions Boxer is expected to ask Johnson is what discussions he had with the White House before reaching his waiver decision. Records show that auto executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney and dropped off documents at the White House arguing against the waiver request.


The notes Boxer released yesterday are below:

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And ... into Florida. The Mike Huckabee-supporting push poll group Common Sense Issues has stormed further south. The group's executive director Patrick Davis tells me that they planned to call "over 2.5 million homes" in Florida before the weekend. They'll also be calling "close to 200,000" homes in Missouri in anticipation of Super Tuesday. That will put the group's total calls this election so far at nearly 8.5 million.

When I asked Davis if he thought that the calls had helped Huckabee in South Carolina, considering the outcome and the negative press about the calls, he said "absolutely." Though "we would have liked to come out on top," he said, the calls "helped to define the issues for the voters making the decisions and differentiating between each candidate."

To refresh your memory, the calls are done in a poll format. Davis let me listen to the Florida call.

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A couple of days ago, a group called Citizens United Not Timid filed papers with the IRS as a "527" organization. Then we saw that Roger Stone had signed on as the group's "assistant treasurer." Uh oh.

Stone, regular TPM readers know, is a Republican operative who prides himself as something of an elder statesman of GOP dirty tricks. He went to work for Richard Nixon at age nineteen, making him the "youngest Watergate dirty trickster." He continues to idolize the man, even sporting a tattoo of Nixon's face between his shoulder blades. On his website, the StoneZone, he proudly touts Nixon's endorsement of him as "one of the very few excellent political professionals."

His career with the GOP took off from there, leading to spots with Ronald Reagan's campaigns, Bob Dole's presidential campaign, two of Sen. Arlen Specter's (R-PA) campaigns (Specter reportedly counts him as a friend), among others. James Baker tapped him to lead street protests in Florida to shut down the recount in 2000. Most recently, he was hired by New York Republicans for their battle with Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D), a gig that exploded when he was accused of making a threatening phone call to Spitzer's 83 year-old father (Stone denied it).

So what's Stone up to? Fortunately, he laid the whole scheme out to The Weekly Standard.

It's this simple: it's all about the group's acronym, which, used in conjunction with Hillary Clinton, is supposed to be irresistibly humorous. That is the beginning and the end of it. The group will not be running ads in any form and will not be making any robocalls. They'll be making T-shirts. That's it. You can buy them for $25 on their website:

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Speaking to reporters today, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) said that he would again filibuster any bill that a provision in it granting retroactive immunity to the telecoms -- or as he put it, "use every tool at my disposal as a Senator" to stop it. So if you were wondering whether anything has changed since Dodd dropped out of the presidential race, nothing has.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) sent a letter to President Bush today to ask that he support an extension to the existing surveillance bill -- which seems very unlikely to happen. That letter's below.

Update: Sure enough, Cheney said at the Heritage Foundation today that "We're reminding Congress that they must act now."

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