Today’s Must Read

March 3, 2008 8:55 a.m.

Two weeks ago, the Protect America Act lapsed. And ever since then, Republicans and the administration have shown impressive stamina in continually hyping the “increased danger” — and insisting on retroactive immunity for the telecoms’ participation in the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

For two weeks, the Democratic leadership did not budge. But now there are signs that the administration may finally be getting what it wants.

And why has President Bush been pushing so hard for immunity? The Washington Post walked through the issue this weekend. Though the Republican talking point has been that trial lawyers have been licking their chops over “billion dollar” lawsuits, there is a much more compelling reason for the administration to want the lawsuits quashed: it is the only legal avenue likely to be successful in forcing disclosures about the warrantless wiretapping program. In other words, while the administration has consistently sought to focus the issue as one about the telecoms; the administration itself arguably has much more to fear from the suits.

There were a couple different indications this weekend that the Dems were getting close to a compromise that would result in retroactive immunity.

Appearing on CNN this weekend, House intelligence committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) sounded like a man inclined towards supporting “blanket immunity,” as he called it, and just dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s. Reyes had earlier refused to declare his position on retroactive immunity, saying that he needed more time to study the issue. The administration finally turned over documents from the program last month. And Reyes said yesterday that “we are talking to the representatives from the communications companies because, if we’re going to give them blanket immunity, we want to know and we want to understand what it is that we’re giving immunity for.” When Wolf Blitzer asked him whether he’s “open” to such immunity, he answered “absolutely.” He said that he and the other House and Senate Dems working on hammering out a compromise would probably be finished “probably within the next week.”

Update: Here’s the vid:

The Los Angeles Times gave a glimpse of what a final vote on that compromise bill might look like in the House. The House leadership might divide its final vote on a compromise bill into two parts, the second vote being solely on the issue of retroactive immunity:

“The objective would be to pass something that is less controversial,” yet still allow Democrats to register their objections to the immunity provision, said one senior Democratic aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and other party leaders have yet to reach a decision on the matter.

The clear expectation is that more than enough Dems would cross over to vote for retroactive immunity to have it pass. How many Dems would “register their objection” — whether it would be more in the House than in the Senate, where the vote on immunity was surprisingly lopsided — well, only a vote would tell. In any case, the long, mighty struggle seems to be winding down to a whimper of an ending.

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