House to Enter Rare Closed Session over Spy Bill

March 13, 2008 4:18 pm

From CQ:

The House was to meet Thursday in its first closed session in 25 years to debate a Democratic leadership-backed rewrite of electronic surveillance law….

Earlier, Minority Leader John A. Boehner said Republicans would ask for the closed session to have an “open and honest debate about some of the important details about this program, that don’t need to be heard in public.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., has agreed to the request.

“We’re having debate on the bill. And I don’t have any problem with having part of it in closed session, and part of it in open session,” Pelosi said.

House Judicary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) is skeptical:

“The more my colleagues know, the less they believe this Administration’s rhetoric. As someone who has chaired classified hearings and reviewed classified materials on this subject, I believe the more information Members receive about this Administration’s actions in the area of warrantless surveillance, the more likely they are to reject the Administration’s scare tactics and threats. My colleagues who joined me in the hearings and reviewed the Administration’s documents have walked away with an inescapable conclusion: the Administration has not made the case for unprecedented spying powers and blanket retroactive immunity for phone companies.

“Whether this is a worthwhile exercise or mere grandstanding depends on whether Republicans have groundbreaking new information that would affect the legislative process. There must be a very high bar to urge the House into a secret session for the first time in 25 years. I eagerly await their presentation to see if it clears this threshold. As someone who has seen and heard an enormous amount of information already, I have my doubts.”

Update: And here’s Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a member of the intelligence committee, who’s similarly skeptical:

“I believe in the use of secret sessions in the House when they are intended to truly educate members on the issues and provide them with valuable classified information. Secret sessions should not be used as a cynical, delaying tactic to block the House from voting on critical legislation that would strengthen our intelligence collection efforts and protect the American people from warrantless surveillance. I will be interested to see if Mr. Boehner truly has new classified information on this program to share with members of the House, and I will seek the opportunity to inform my colleagues of what I have learned about this program and the President’s actions in this matter.”

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