POLITICS

Feingold Makes Case Against Telecom Immunity

07/03/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) blasted the surveillance compromise bill on the Senate floor today:

This legislation has been billed as a compromise between Republicans and Democrats. We are asked to support it because it is a supposedly reasonable accommodation of opposing views. Let me respond as clearly as possible: This bill is not a compromise. It is a capitulation. This bill will effectively and unjustifiably grant immunity to companies that allegedly participated in an illegal wiretapping program - a program that more than 70 members of this body still know virtually nothing about. And this bill will grant the Bush Administration - the same administration that developed and operated this illegal program for more than five years - expansive new authorities to spy on Americans' international communications . . . There is simply no question that Democrats who had previously stood strong against immunity and in support of civil liberties were on the losing end of this backroom deal.

Watch Feingold's speech:

Sen. Dodd (D-CT) voiced his opposition last night, connecting the FISA update to waterboarding and the U.S. Attorney scandal:

Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness. Immunity is a disgrace in itself, but it is far worse in what it represents. It tells us that some believe in the courts only so long as their verdict goes their way. That some only believe in the rule of law, so long as exceptions are made at their desire. It puts secrecy above sunshine and fiat above law.

Glenn Greenwald called the speech "one of the most compelling and inspired speeches by a prominent politician that I've heard in quite some time." Will it inspire Dodd's fellow Democrats? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he will vote against the compromise and fight for to strip immunity from the bill. But Barack Obama, the party's presidential nominee, plans to vote for it.

When asked about Dodd and Feingold's threatened filibuster, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said more debate would be "healthy."

But in "her floor statement, she claimed "This bill does not allow warrantless surveillance of Americans" (a statement refuted by Julian Sanchez). She concluded half-heartedly: "I'm not asking anyone to vote for this bill. I just wanted you to know why I was."

Of course, there may be other reasons why some Democrats who once opposed telecom immunity have suddenly taken to it: MAPLight.org finds that Democrats who changed their votes got thousands more in telecom company cash than those who didn't.

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