Reid Chooses Admin-Friendly Measure as Basis for Surveillance Bill

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December 14, 2007 4:23 p.m.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) is taking an enormous amount of criticism from the left — see Glenn Greenwald and Christy Hardin Smith, for starters — for putting the Senate intelligence committee’s version of the surveillance bill on the floor as the “base text” for a vote on Monday and offering the Senate Judiciary Committee’s version as a standing amendment. In a nutshell, Judiciary’s version doesn’t provide retroactive telecom immunity and offers more civil-liberties protections. (TPMm homie Julian Sanchez has a good rundown of the differences at Ars Technica.)

Reid spokesman Jim Manley tells us that Reid wants both bills to contend, doesn’t intend to favor one over the other, and the reason why the intelligence committee’s version is the base text owes to “the order in which they considered the bill.” (Intelligence marked it up before Judiciary.)

In a floor statement today, Reid said that he “personally favor[s] many of the additional protections included in the Judiciary Committee bill, and I oppose the concept of retroactive immunity in the Intelligence bill.” But it would “be wrong of me to simply choose one committee’s bill over the other.” He added that the “consensus” emerged between himself, Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Intelligence Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) that using intelligence’s bill as the base text was the right way to go. Reid’s full statement is after the jump.

But that decision certainly hasn’t satisfied critics of the intelligence bill. Says Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies:

“As leader, Senator Reid chooses what bill to bring to the floor and under what procedures; he could choose to bring to the floor the bill as reported out of the Judiciary committee with much improved privacy protections and no immunity….

He could also choose to bring a compromise, of the kind that he introduced on Monday, for example including the improvements made by Judiciary and the immunity provision from the Intelligence committee. Because of the way the rules in the Senate operate and the narrow margin, it matters what bill is brought to the floor as the ‘base bill.’ We are very disappointed that he is apparently starting with the bill approved by the Republicans and the administration , instead of the bill that the Judiciary committee approved. Doing so will make it much more difficult for the Senate to pass a bill which contains meaningful privacy protections to replace the Protect America Act. We hoped that the Majority Leader instead would exert his leadership to restore constitutional protections.”

Here’s Reid’s statement, in full:

“I will shortly move to proceed to S. 2248, the FISA Improvement Act of 2007. I spoke briefly on this subject earlier, but I want to provide a more complete explanation of the process by which the Senate will consider this important bill. Earlier this year, the Director of National Intelligence came to Congress and alerted us to what he described as a significant gap that had emerged in our nation’s foreign intelligence gathering capacity.

“Members on both sides of the aisle – and from all sides of this important debate – became convinced that this problem was real, and that we had an obligation to address it. Although we may differ on the solutions required, all Senators – both Democrats and Republicans – want to ensure that intelligence professionals have the tools they need to keep our country as safe as possible. We worked in good faith with the Administration through July and August to provide those tools in a way that protects the privacy and liberties of law-abiding Americans. Unfortunately, the final bill signed by President Bush fell well short of that goal.

“Many other Democrats and I opposed the so-called Protect America Act. That’s why we made sure that it had a six-month sunset so that we could come back to do a better job of ensuring judicial and congressional oversight of these sensitive activities. As my colleagues know, the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees share jurisdiction over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Both Committees have worked diligently over the past few months, this hard work has resulted in two different versions of legislation to improve FISA – S. 2248 – reported out of the Committees. I consulted extensively with Chairman Rockefeller and Chairman Leahy about the best way for the Senate to consider this subject.

“I have determined that in this situation, it would be wrong of me to simply choose one committee’s bill over the other. I personally favor many of the additional protections included in the Judiciary Committee bill, and I oppose the concept of retroactive immunity in the Intelligence bill. But I cannot ignore the fact that the Intelligence bill was reported favorably by a vote of 13-2, with most Democrats on the committee supporting that approach. I explored the possibility of putting before the Senate a bill that included elements of both two committee bills. Earlier this week, I used Senate Rule 14 to place two bills on the calendar.

“The first – S. 2440 – consists of Titles I and III of the Intelligence bill, but did not include Title II on retroactive immunity. The second bill – S. 2441 – consists of Title I of the Intelligence bill and Titles II and III of the Judiciary bill. But after consulting further with Chairman Rockefeller and Chairman Leahy, a consensus emerged among the three of us that the best way to proceed would be by regular order. Both Chairmen agreed with this approach.

“Under regular order, and the rules of the Senate governing sequential referral, I will move to proceed to S. 2248 – the bill reported by each committee. When that motion to proceed is adopted, the work of both committees will be before the Senate. Because of the order in which they considered the bill, the Intelligence Committee version will be the base text, and the Judiciary Committee version will be automatically pending as a substitute amendment.

“In the weeks since the two committees acted, Senators Rockefeller and Leahy have been working hard to narrow the difference between their two versions of the bill. The ranking Republicans, Senators Bond and Specter, have been included in many of these conversations. I expect that when we begin debate on the bill, there will be amendments to incorporate many of the Judiciary Committee provisions into the Intelligence Committee text.

“In my view, that will make the final product stronger. There is one issue that cannot be resolved through informal negotiation. As some are aware, the Intelligence Committee’s bill provides the telephone companies with retroactive immunity from lawsuits filed by their customers for privacy violations. Many members, myself included, believe that such a grant of immunity is unwise. I expect there will be a full debate on this subject next week.

“Senators Specter, Feinstein, Whitehouse and others are working to craft a compromise that might give the phone companies some relief – but allow the lawsuits to go forward in a manner that would preserve accountability. In one way or another, we must ensure that President Bush is held accountable for his actions. It is important for the Senate to complete work on this bill next week to allow time for the Senate and House to produce a final bill. Our ultimate goal is a bill that commands broad bipartisan support in the Congress and in the country. The process I just outlined offers us the best opportunity to do so.”

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