The House is now voting on changes to the new federal surveillance law.
There were plenty of Democrats speaking out against it during the hour-long debate.
“This bill scares me to death and I urge a no-vote,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), co-chair of the House’s Progressive Caucus.
She compared the bill to the era of former FBI head J. Edgar Hoover. “We already remember how Dr. [Martin Luther] King and his family were the victims of the government’s most shameless wiretapping. We must never go down this road again.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), gave the bill a lukewarm endorsement, saying the bill many supported was “not an option.”
She said the real decision was between this “compromise” bill and the one the Senate has passed, which offered even broader surveillance powers and more protection for telecom companies. “That is the comparison, the contrast, that we have to make today.”
“I’m not asking anybody to vote for this bill. I just wanted you to know why I was,” Pelosi told the House. “Difficult decisions for all of us. … I respect every point that was expressed on this floor today. … The knowledge, the sincerity, the passion and intelligence of those who supported and who don’t support this bill have been very valuable in making this bill better.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) pointed to a constitutional concern.
“The grant of retro-active immunity is inconsistent with our basic principles. We are breaking with a very proud tradition and intervening in a pending court decision in an effort to reach a preordained legal outcome. This is a bad precedent,” he said.
Republicans without exception spoke in favor of the bill, often citing the dangers of terrorism.
“This bill will prove that we have the ability to monitor the conversations of al Qaeda overseas,” said Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) “It’s not the Mona Lisa, but it’s not a bad paint job.”
Rep. Dennis Kucinch (D-OH) spoke briefly. “These blanket wiretaps make it impossible to know whose calls are being intercepted by the National Security Agency.”