Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this evening that he will vote against the compromise FISA legislation and work with likeminded colleagues to strip immunity for telecom firms from that bill.
It is a position that puts the Democratic Senate leader at odds with his own party's presumptive presidential nominee, Barack Obama, who also has pledged to fight for the removal of immunity but will vote yes on the final package.
"I am not going to vote for the FISA bill," said the Nevada Democrat. "There are people, Mr. President, who have worked on this FISA matter for three months or more and again the administration worked with them. Did they, on the FISA bill, move enough to make me vote for the bill? The answer is no."
Reid's position seems, at this point, unlikely to change the contours of the debate. This past week, Democratic negotiators in the House and Senate came to an agreement to pass a sweeping overhaul of the nation's electronic surveillance laws, in the process granting conditional immunity for telecommunications companies who participated in the previously illegal program.
That update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed the House by a vote of 293 to 129; the majority of the Democratic caucus voted nay.
On Wednesday, one of the FISA legislation's principle opponents, Russ Feingold, announced that he would try to use procedural measures to strip out the immunity provision.
"We are going to resist this bill," said the Wisconsin Democrat. "We are going to make sure that the procedural votes are gone through. In other words, a filibuster is requiring sixty votes to proceed to the bill, sixty votes to get cloture on the legislation. We will also--Senator Dodd and I and others will be taking some time to talk about this on the floor. We're not just going to let it be rubberstamped."
But the Senate has filed (and seems likely to pass) cloture on the FISA legislation and amendments to strip the bill of immunity would likely require 60 votes for passage, something that, with a divided Democratic caucus, almost certainly won't happen. As noted by Congressional Quarterly: "A similar amendment to a previous version of legislation overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA, PL 95-511) failed by a vote of 31-67 in February."
Reid's position is still a relatively bold political move. While Sen. Barack Obama has expressed reservations with the compromise (and supports an amendment stripping immunity from its language), he nevertheless said he would support the bill. That the Senate Majority Leader would willingly take a different stance from his party's presidential nominee is an indication of both the political pressures of the current election as well as the emotional divisiveness of the FISA battle.
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