Despite recent signs that House Democrats will likely ultimately vote on a bill that contains retroactive immunity for the telecoms, negotiations on a final version of the surveillance bill remain ongoing. Dems, after saying that a vote might come as early as this week, now seem unclear when it might happen.
In a conference call with bloggers today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) made it clear that her highest priority for a surveillance bill was that it contain a so-called “exclusivity” provision — a measure that would explicitly state that the bill would be the “exclusive means” by which the government would conduct surveillance, or in other words, the president does not have the power to ignore the law if he/she so pleases.
“Exclusivity is the issue,” she said.
The Bush administration, which circumvented FISA to conduct its warrantless wiretapping program, does not want its hands tied. And a majority of Republicans helped vote down an exclusivity amendment offered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) in the Senate, where by bipartisan agreement, the measure required 60 votes. There is such a provision in the House’s surveillance bill, which passed last year.
Pelosi says that she “absolutely” opposes retroactive immunity for the telecoms, but that she “didn’t want the fight to be so focused there that we neglect exclusivity.” Pelosi added that the House leadership was “at the mercy of the 17 or 18 Democrats in the Senate who are voting with the Republicans on this” and said that “we are trying to work with the Dems in the Senate to come to an agreement” on exclusivity, immunity, and other issues.
So this will be an interesting variable to add to the mix as the bill negotiations continue. Would Republicans in the Senate support a bill that had exclusivity in it? And would the President veto a bill that had it?