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Two Cheers For Senator Reid

leah's picture
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Okay, maybe it's only one cheer.

A provisional cheer at that, although I'm inclined to make that two provisional cheers.

What I'd like to suggest, no doubt to the consternation of most readers, is that Reid's decision to pull the FISA bill Monday evening was pretty much what Reid had in mind the whole time.

What I'm sure of is that the many comments I've read that characterize what happened on the Senate floor on Monday as Reid having been forced to pull the bill by Chris Dodd's threat of a filibuster simply don't match what I saw, via C-Span's live streaming.

Before I proceed, let me make clear that I wish to take nothing from Chris Dodd's role here. He deserves all of the praise he's getting and then some.

His speeches on the Senate floor were magisterial. I've been watching him for more years than most of you and I have never seen him so compelling. And yes, it counts that he left his campaign in Idaho to come back and lead the opposition to a version of the Senate bill that was inadequate to the task of restoring the good sense, the respect for civil liberties and constitutional government, that had fueled the passage of the first FISA legislation in the late 1970s.

As Dodd graciously acknowledges in the video Lambert has posted here, many Democrats contributed to the sense I had, watching the debate on Monday, that I was not looking at a dispirited, disunited, frightened caucus, without a clue about how to oppose the policy of obdurate obstructionism employed so successfully in the past six months by the Bush administration and its enablers in the Republican Senate caucus.

Democrats were on the attack, making compelling, easy-to-understand arguments that have wide-spread appeal among a majority of Americans, and they were ready and able to shoot down the lies and prevarications employed by key Republicans, like Orrin Hatch. Most important, the list of Democratic contributors to this success was long and varied, and included Harry Reid.

******

Even Dianne Feinstein helped to throw a nice sized ringer into the Republican's well-oiled talking points.

Her early speech avowing that her own vote for any version of a a bill that would restore FISA while bringing it up to date without gutting it, would depend on the passage of an amendment which included a clear statement of FISA's exclusive role as the arbitrator of any President's ability to order surveillance of any Americans, at home and abroad, which is a central achievement of the House version of the bill, as well as an amendment which handed over the question of immunity for Telecoms to the FISA court itself, had the effect of breaking the consensus the Republicans had clearly planned to ride to an early victory on the Intelligence Committee version of the bill. And Republicans knew it. You could tell because of how mad it made them.

Senator Whitehouse's strong early speech had the same effect of shattering the illusory consensus that put key Democrats on the Republican side, since he was one of those who voted out the version of the Intelligence Committee bill which included Telecom immunity. And it didn't hurt that Rockefeller was present at Feinstein's side as a co-sponsor of her two amendments.

Ron Wyden, who had played a key role in reporting out the Judiciary Committee version of the bill excluding that same immunity, gave an important speech in which he pointed out, loudly, clearly, and passionately, that almost no Senators who would be voting on immunity had been allowed to view the actual paper record of what transpired between the Bush administration and these giant corporations, who, to hear the Republicans tell it, were just doing their patriotic duty when asked by their government to lend a hand in the WOT, with no way of judging whether or not they were breaking any laws, without, apparently, access to the squads of corporate lawyers they emply, forced, instead, to depend on what; volunteer law students or some civil version of public defenders?

Apparently, Wyden was one of the few Senators who have looked at this paper trail, and without spelling out specifics, this is all "classified" material, he assured his fellow Senators that reading them would make it clear that the Telecoms should have known better.

As the debate proceeded, Democrats pressed on this issue of allowing Senators to view the evidence of what transpired between White House, the Justice Department and the Telecoms, and Reid has now made it an official demand.

Through all of this, Harry Reid presided with aplomb. He hovered above the fray, aligning himself verbally with those who don't wish to extend immunity to Telecoms, but framing the proceedings as a genuine debate on a complicated set of issues, which required there be time to provide possible compromises to take place among the varied opinions on the Democratic side, as well as to give equal treatment to the more unified Republican side.

Republicans stayed unified, but the richness of arguments being presented by Democrats caused them to start considering amendments, and threatening their own possible filibusters.

My take, Reid set the stage, and Democrats pushed hard, to the point the even Republicans couldn't do much but grumble when Reid made the decision that there simply was no time to get work on the bill done in time for Christmas recess, not with the Omnibus spending bill coming up the next day, which Reid had announced at the start of the day.

Reid's decision to pull the bill has been characterized as a sudden one, but if you were watching the day-long debate, it seemed more inevitable than sudden.

Of course this is a temporary victory.

The bill will be taken up in January, and the Protect America Act passed in August expires on February 1st. It seems that Reid is working to gain more time by extending the original bill for another month, but interestingly, the Republicans are against that.

Many of you may be asking, why not simply honor Dodd's original "hold" on the legislation, rather than bringing it up, and why make the Intelligence Committee bill the base bill? Reid's answer was that in his view, given the Senate dynamics on this issue, his way was the best way to achieve the results most Democrats wanted, to restore the FISA court without offering immunity to the Telecoms.

I think he may have been right, and that he it is quite possible that he was not motivated by a desire to push through the Intelligence Committee bill. Please note that the Republicans now have nothing to complain about. Yes, of course, that won't stop them from complaining, but their outrage was already beginning to sound strained on the Senate floor.

Reid gained time, he honored the various views among Democrats, which required intra-party negotiations, and the entire caucus seemed to take a noticeable step toward the kind of FISA bill most bloggers want to see enacted.

I'm taking nothing from the role of bloggers here. We played an important part, not least by getting people to call Reid, and other Senators. And Reid was able to use the fact of receiving so many calls in his justifications for pulling the bill.

What I didn't see is any indication that Senator Reid had a hidden agenda of giving into the administration, or providing cover for Telecoms.

I'm not claiming for sure that what I saw is the truth. But there is a clear and simple way we'll know the truth. If the final FISA bill provides sufficient protection for Americans' civil liberties, and it does not contain any form of blanket immunity for telecoms, then I think some of us should consider the possibility that Harry Reid knew what he was doing.

On the other side of the scale, nothing less than that outcome will justify our beleaguered Senate Majority Leader, and the thought did occur that Chris Dodd might just be a majority leader for the ages.

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MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Is Reid a champion chess player, or does one simply hope he is? Haven't we seen much of this before? For the sake of argument, if he is good at The Royal Game how many moves ahead can he see on the "big board?"

A wee tangent off Leah's topic:

I’m not claiming for sure that what I saw is the truth. But there is a clear and simple way we’ll know the truth. If the final FISA bill provides sufficient protection for Americans’ civil liberties, and it does not contain any form of blanket immunity for telecoms, then I think some of us should consider the possibility that Harry Reid knew what he was doing.

What other forms of immunity might the tentaclecoms be entitled to? A swatch here? A patch there? Are they entitled to any protection from legal remedies which may be sought by "the governed" for violations of their Constitutional rights? Methinks many here do not think so, but what arguments have been made on the other side? Does anyone dare articulate, on the record, just why tentaclecoms who threw their customers' civil rights under the bus deserve protections from redress? I'd love to hear those arguments. Do they include ...relax, if you don't do anything wrong... or ...we must use all available methods to stop the terrorists from showing up on our desk in the August 6th, 2001 PDB that was "inoperable..."

Besides favorable consideration for laws that would increase tentaclecom profits, what else is under that filthy rug that led to the quid pro quo of the warrantless and illegal mining of data/phone records etc.? Just what exactly are the "somethings for somethings...?" Are we looking at a whole scale operation to implant (for reasons both corporate and political) surveillance on whomever le Borg pleases to surveill, whenever and wherever and however? Is there a rather large rat that has already been released in the collective basement, one seeking permanent advantages in the quest to...what, exactly?

Anyone know how to set out traps?

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Tinfoil Hat Boy's picture
Submitted by Tinfoil Hat Boy on

Glad someone besides little old THB thought of this.

Apparently Leah and THB are the sort who see a pile of manure and think, "Where's the pony?"

I hope you're right, Ms Leah.

"A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Submitted by lambert on

I wish it were true, because I do have a soft spot for Harry. And even now, I'd say he's a hell of a lot better than Tom Daschle.

However, I can't get past the fact that if Reid and Pelosi hadn't managed to pass a Republican bill, back in August, we wouldn't be in this pickle today.

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Submitted by lambert on

Are we looking at a whole scale operation to implant (for reasons both corporate and political) surveillance on whomever le Borg pleases to surveill, whenever and wherever and however?

Yes.

That's the meaning of all this starting up before 9/11.

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Nothing compelled Reid to bring the intelligence committee bill up; Dodd, after all, had attempted to place a hold on it. If Reid wanted to dramatize the immunity provision, he could have brought the judiciary committee version forward and forced Republicans to argue for amending it to include immunity without risking passage of the other version. I suspect that what you saw as aplomb may well have been stoic annoyance at Dodd and Feingold, who very clearly believed Reid was planning to pass the offending bill.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

all the intellectual and moral heavy loading. spinning for harry, as it were. i bless and love you for it, but he does not deserve your loyalty.

where are his people? what is his message on this, and how does it fit into the context of his other actions? poorly, if this is supposed to impress me. and not at all, when one looks at the actual outcome of many bills etc. he's had a "procedural" chance to kill. his republican counterparts have NO difficulty making procedure work for them. and in fact, neither does harry.

when it has to do with tanking progressive dems, that is.

the weldon vote sealed it for me; harry is not on our side. he may not be on the "other" side, but that's a whole 'nuther debate. in the meantime, i look at the score for all four quarters. this is harry sinking 1/2 when the team has gone from a 50-51 halftime to a 35-65 fourth quarter, and harry's half effort makes it 36-65. /golf clap/

in the scheme of things, harry has done very, very little for "us." he's a smoother talker, i give him mad props for that. he even had me fooled for a little while, the 'suck up to bloggers personally' moment was slick, tres smooth. but results are what matters. his are not impressive, not in the least. get back to me in march; we'll see if "500,000 Blogs!" really made this go away, or just pushed it under the rug until april next year.

Submitted by lambert on

Not 500,000 blogs. I wish!

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

Submitted by [Please enter a... (not verified) on

Although I'm a ID Blue individual, I think you meant Iowa instead Idaho...

I'm afraid it's all guesswork, but the cynic in me makes my knee twitch every time Reid's in charge. While it did seem like a good show, I fear it was done to mute the criticism on the war funding bill. A month from now, he has nothing to lose by passing it with immunity.

As well, he's set the precedent of refusing to honor a hold.

I hope you're correct, but being burned so much previously, I'm in wait and see mode for the duration.

Submitted by lambert on

Last I checked, Republican holds were doing just fine.

We. Are. Going. To. Die. We must restore hope in the world. We must bring forth a new way of living that can sustain the world. Or else it is not just us who will die but everyone. What have we got to lose? Go forth and Fight!—Xan

leah's picture
Submitted by leah on

I'm at a disadvantage being two to three hours behind most of you,thus my silence as this fine thread collected itself.

I started to frame a response to all the excellent questions raised and opinions stated above, but realized it might better come in a post, since it touches on areas and questions I want to take up over several posts.

I'm not sure I'll get it posted today; I'm committed to going to Ikea to buy a table I've been waiting for my semi-local store to restock for two months now. If any of you have ever shopped at Ikea you will understand that such is generally a day-long activity, since one can pretty much bet on getting lost at least two times on every visit.

A few preliminary thoughts.

Lambert, I hate being accused of being "nice."

I like to think of myself as a tough old broad, and my comments on Reid were meant to be correspondingly tentative, hence the awarding of only two cheers, and tentative ones at that.

Kevin, I share your unease about Reid. I agree with wait and see, although I'd say, while we are waiting let's do a lot to push these guys to where they need to be. The grassroots revolt against business as usual on FISA clearly had an impact.

Steelhead, I did mean Iowa, thank-you for noticing, I'm about to correct that.

MJS, the bit you quoted was confusing; I didn't mean "blanket," I meant to write retroactive. I wasn't saying that some sort of partial immunity would be okay. I think most of us feel that only the courts can decide if the Telcos broke the law. And it's not as if they'll be facing jail time; these are civil lawsuits. Interesting that the discussion is always about what to give or not to give to these big companies, and little corresponding discussion of what will be taken away from ordinary citizens if Republicans succeed in legislating away their right to get an accounting of what went on.

That's it for now.

To Lambert: look for "Table at Ikea" in your inbox.

MJS's picture
Submitted by MJS on

Gracias for the clarification(s). We can probably take off our tinfoil hats: the mind probe tentacles are of such a wavelength that resistance is futile.

We are truly fucked if this assault on "the governed" (which as Lambert pointed out began prior to 9/11) is not thoroughly examined in the public arena. There's so much money and core rights' issues at stake that it will be a deadly serious contest, no matter what.

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bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

At Reid’s web site, bottom of the page:

Note: Between December 21, 2007 and January 22, 2008, the Senate will meet in a series of scheduled pro forma sessions.

No recess appointments, no Spakovsky, but no FEC either. Still, a net positive.

hobson's picture
Submitted by hobson on

Wow!

Thanks to Leah for the analysis of the ins and outs of the Senate on this. It seems to have stimulated a more detailed and nuanced discussion of what people think about the Dems than just that they are feckless and no different from Republicans.