Senator Chris Dodd won a temporary victory today after his threats of a filibuster forced Democratic leadership to push back consideration of a measure that would grant immunity to telecom companies that were complicit in warrantless surveillance.
The measure was part of a greater bill to reorganize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Earlier on Monday, the Senate, agreed to address a bill that would have overhauled FISA, authorized the monitoring of people outside the United States, given secret courts the power to approve aspects of surveillance, and granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for past cooperation.
But the threat of Dodd's filibuster, aimed primarily at the latter measure, persuaded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to table the act until January. A compromise on the immunity will ostensibly be worked out in the interim period.
"We have tried to work through this process and it appears quite clear at this stage on this bill that we're not going to be able to do that," said Reid. "We are at the last few hours of the last few days of this year's session of Congress... I think its very clear we're not going to be able to move into the amendments.... I've spoken with a number of Senators and we feel it would be in the best interest of the Senate to take at look at this when we come back next year."
A smile on his reddened face, Dodd was at once gracious and joyful by the turn of events. He had been arguing his case for approximately eight hours.
"I want to thank the leader [Sen. Reid]," he said. "This is an awkward time. We want to get the bill done. My longstanding concerns were over retroactive immunity. Look forward to coming back in January. And hopefully between then and January a suggestion can be made to compromise without granting full immunity...I appreciate the fact that we will not have to pursue this further."
Dodd flew back from Iowa last night to personally rally against the amendment to the Protect America Act. After the Senate agreed, by a vote of 79 to 10, to move to debate, Dodd took to the floor. Over the course of the day, the Connecticut Democrat criticized the idea of granting immunity. Expanding on similar remarks made by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, he noted that that the original FISA bill already included an immunity clause and that the courts, not Congress, should decide whether telecom companies deserve legal protections.
While he never technically conducted a filibuster, according to aides, Dodd left the floor only once, to address a press gathering. He did, on occasion cede time to his Democratic colleagues. But even then, they say, he remained engaged in the debate.
"Everyone who spoke on the floor said they were grateful for Dodd taking a stand," said a staffer to the Senator who asked not to be named. "They said if it weren't for him they wouldn't be having this much-needed debate."
Dodd was the one Senator currently running for the White House who left the campaign trail to debate the Protect America Act, an absence he hinted at while on the Senate floor.
"I respect immensely the people who spend a lot of time on these issues. But this is a critical moment," Dodd said. "This is one of these moments you need to be here for this, to engage in this debate and discussion. They don't happen everyday, but this is an important one. This goes right to the heart of who we are. This isn't about selling your soul, it's about giving it away, in my view, if you don't stand up for these rights."
Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Biden did offer their rhetorical support for the filibuster. Dodd, according to aides, will rejoin the three on the campaign trail tomorrow.