Today’s Must Read

February 13, 2008 8:51 am

“Some people around here get cold feet when threatened by the administration,” is how Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) put it.

Yesterday, the Senate enthusiastically endorsed the Administration’s wireless wiretapping program (and voted to stop the 40 or so lawsuits against the telecoms for cooperating with it). Now the question becomes whether members of the House will stand by their bill, which contains stronger court oversight of the spying and does not contain retroactive immunity for the telecoms.

The early signs from the House leadership have been that they will strongly oppose the Senate version. The chairmen of the two relevant committees, House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) and House intel committee Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), both say they oppose the Senate bill. Conyers has said outright that he opposes such immunity, while Reyes says he needs more time to review the documents from the program “to make a determination.” The House leadership has been making similar noises.

But it will indeed be a battle. The administration has put the pressure on any way it can. It’s threatened to veto any bill that does not grant retroactive immunity to the telecoms. It is refusing to agree to any further extension of the Protect America Act — which, after last month’s 15-day extension is set to lapse this Friday — and is revving up for another round of excoriating Democrats for attempting to extend that deadline while simultaneously warning what a calamity it will be if the bill does lapse.

And, as in August, when both houses passed the administration’s sweeping Protect America Act, a group of moderate Democrats in the House are set to bolt. From The Los Angeles Times:

Senior congressional aides said there was no clear path to a compromise on the issue. But a series of recent defections by moderate Democrats in the House raises prospects that the White House position — or something close to it — eventually may prevail….

Reluctant to be portrayed as depriving the government of a key tool in the war on terrorism, 21 members of a bloc of moderate House Democrats signed a letter endorsing the Senate approach. Senior Democratic aides said those defections suggested there might be enough support in the House to pass the Senate bill.

The back channel negotiations have already begun. And as no one seems to be able to tell what might happen next, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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