# Civil Liberties

Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst opposed Patriot Act revisions (updated)

Two provisions of the Patriot Act and one other legal provision granting surveillance powers expired on Sunday night, as the U.S. Senate failed to pass either a short-term Patriot Act extension or the House-approved USA Freedom Act, which would revise parts of that law. Jamie Dupree wrote a good overview of the key points of contention, including the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection practices. Julian Hattem previews the next likely steps in the Senate and House (assuming the Senate approves an amended version of the USA Freedom Act this week). Carl Hulse analyzed the “lose-lose-lose result” for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who prefers not to curtail NSA surveillance powers but arguably “overplayed his hand.”

How Congress will resolve this dispute remains unclear, but we have learned one thing from the last ten days: Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst oppose the current bipartisan compromise on how to revise the Patriot Act. For Ernst, the expiring Patriot Act provisions “are critical to the safety and security of our country”–a view similar to Representative Steve King’s reasons for voting against “data disarmament” when the House considered the USA Freedom Act.

In Grassley’s more nuanced view, Congress should enact “meaningful reform by ending the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records under Section 215” of the Patriot Act, while allowing the government to gather such information in a targeted way. Grassley also objects to how the USA Freedom Act would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  

Details on the relevant Senate votes are after the jump, along with statements from Grassley and Ernst. I’ve also noted which Republican senators who are running for president supported either the USA Freedom Act or a short-term Patriot Act extension.

UPDATE: Grassley and Ernst split on June 2 as the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act. Details on their votes are below, along with their explanations. While Iowa’s two Republican senators have voted differently on a handful of amendments or motions related to consideration of other bills, today’s votes represent their first major policy disagreement since Ernst was sworn in.

Scroll to the end of this post for details on how the GOP presidential candidates voted today.

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The disconnect in the Des Moines Register's coverage of Congress

An important Congressional vote went unreported in the Des Moines Register this week, despite two lead editorials in the paper within the past month urging Congress to act on that very issue.

The disconnect provides a good example of a problem I flagged in this post about the Des Moines Register’s political coverage. Ever since the Register closed its Washington bureau, Iowans are less likely to know what our representatives in Congress are doing on our behalf.  

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Steve King, Rod Blum vote against Patriot Act revision for opposite reasons

Yesterday the U.S. House approved the USA Freedom Act, which revises some provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act and extends them until December 2019. The Patriot Act is set to expire on June 1 without Congressional action. The main changes in the bill concern bulk data collection and domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. Groups advocating for civil liberties are seeking more changes to the USA Freedom Act following a recent federal appeals court ruling, which “determined that the NSA’s telephone records program went far beyond what Congress authorized when it passed Section 215 of the Patriot Act in 2001.”

Proponents argue that the USA Freedom Act strikes a reasonable compromise between security and privacy. The overwhelming majority of House members agreed, as the bill passed by 338 votes to 88 (roll call). Representative David Young (IA-03) was among the 196 Republicans who voted yes, while Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) was among the 142 Democratic supporters.

Forty-one Democrats and 47 Republicans, including Iowa’s Steve King (IA-04) and Rod Blum (IA-01), opposed the USA Freedom Act. In a statement I’ve enclosed in full below, King warned that the bill amounted to “data disarmament,” with too little weight given to “the investigative value” of information gathered through bulk collection techniques, or how to protect “the vital data we need for national security.”

In a Twitter post yesterday, Blum said he voted against the bill “because it continues the violation of the 4th Amendment rights of American citizens.” In a Facebook post, Blum added, ” Protecting your constitutional right to privacy is one of my top priorities, and I will continue to stand strong for the Fourth Amendment in Congress. I think America can be secure WITHOUT sacrificing our civil liberties.” I am seeking a more extensive comment and will update this post if I receive one. Blum has long aligned himself with the Iowa GOP’s “Liberty” wing.

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NSA Amendment Fails

(Another post is coming later with more details on how Iowans voted on other amendments to the defense appropriations bill. All four Iowans voted for final passage of the Pentagon budget. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Earlier this evening, the U.S. House tried to limit the scope of the NSA's domestic spying, but this amendment failed by 205-217.  It was an unusual cross-party vote, with Democrats voting 111-83, and Republians voting 94-134.  (Here is the full roll call vote).

Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack voted Yes (to restrict the NSA), while Steve King and Tom Latham voted No.  I haven't been able to find any more detailed statements from any of Iowa's congressmen.

Does anyone know where the 1st district candidates stand on this issue?  It would be a good debate topic.

Harkin, Grassley react to leaks on NSA surveillance

To my knowledge, none of Iowa’s representatives in Congress has issued an official statement on the recent revelations about broad surveillance of phone and electronic communications by the National Security Agency. However, both Democratic Senator Tom Harkin and Republican Senator Chuck Grassley have commented to the media about the story. Notably, Harkin expressed concern about the scope of intelligence gathering and called for President Barack Obama to give better guidance. In contrast to his image as a supporter of whistle-blowers, Grassley has expressed more interest in prosecuting Edward Snowden (the source of the leaks) than in investigating the NSA’s activities. Details are after the jump.

On a related note, here is a must-read post for anyone comforted by the president’s comments last week (“nobody is listening to your telephone calls. That’s not what this program is about”). Sociology professor Kieran Healy pretends to be a security analyst for the King of England in 1772, a period of growing political unrest in the American Colonies. Using “metadata” analysis only–that is, looking at social connections with no information about the content of people’s conversations or writings–Healy was able to identify Paul Revere as a prime suspect in activities disloyal to the crown.

But I say again, if a mere scribe such as I-one who knows nearly nothing-can use the very simplest of these methods to pick the name of a traitor like Paul Revere from those of two hundred and fifty four other men, using nothing but a list of memberships and a portable calculating engine, then just think what weapons we might wield in the defense of liberty one or two centuries from now.

Hat tip to Nathan Yau at Flowing Data.

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Grassley among senators seeking memos on targeted killings (updated)

A bipartisan group of senators including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley sent President Barack Obama an open letter this week asking for access to “secret legal opinions outlining your authority to authorize the killing of Americans in the course of counterterrorism operations.”

UPDATE: The Obama administration will provide “classified Office of Legal Counsel advice” on this issue to members of Congressional intelligence committees. I agree with Grassley that judiciary committees should be included as well, since they oversee the U.S. Department of Justice.

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Worst Obama nominee ever?

The U.S. Senate is about to get bogged down in a debate over whether Chuck Hagel is pro-Israel enough to be President Barack Obama’s secretary of defense. An amusing sideshow will feature Republicans appalled by Hagel’s anti-gay remark about a 1998 nominee of President Bill Clinton. After much time is wasted, senators will confirm Hagel to run the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, there is likely to be little debate over Obama’s most appalling nominee yet: John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t have much to add to concerns the American Civil Liberties Union and Glenn Greenwald raised yesterday. It’s bad enough that the Obama administration is still doing renditions, spying on Americans without a warrant, and escalating its use of drone strikes that kill many civilians. The president is promoting his top terrorism adviser, who’s deeply associated with those policies, and it’s not even a controversial appointment. The Senate should have a real debate about this policy but won’t. Greenwald noted, “the reason Obama needs a new CIA chief is because David Petraeus was forced to resign. Here we see the ethos and morality of imperial Washington: past support for torture and rendition does not disqualify one for a top national security position; only an extramarital affair can do that.”

Any comments about Obama’s cabinet appointments are welcome in this thread. UPDATE: Senator Chuck Grassley commented on Hagel’s nomination today but did not say whether he plans to vote for or against confirming him.

Apparently Brennan denies having supported torture as U.S. policy, but he is on record backing “coercive methods” of interrogation.

Pre-election Iowa Congressional voting news roundup

Following a month-long summer recess, members of the U.S. House and Senate worked for less than three weeks before adjourning in late September until after the general election. Congress will hold only “pro-forma” sessions for the next month, presumably to prevent President Barack Obama from making recess appointments.

Follow me after the jump for a review of how the Iowans voted (or did not vote) on the most significant legislation that came up during the past few weeks.  

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Boswell, Latham and King vote for controversial cybersecurity bill

Late last week, the U.S. House approved four bills related to cybersecurity. Only one was controversial: the Cyber Intelligence and Sharing Protection Act (CISPA), which the House passed on April 26. Depending on your point of view, CISPA is either a useful tool for cracking down on cyber threats or a huge threat to the civil liberties of internet users.

The 206 Republicans and 42 Democrats who voted for this bill included Iowans Leonard Boswell (IA-03), Tom Latham (IA-04), and Steve King (IA-05). Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) were among the 140 Democrats who voted no, joined by 28 House Republicans (roll call). More details on this bill and on the House debate are after the jump.

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Sneaking the PATRIOT Act through

This week, with so much at stake for our civil liberties, Demand Progress is calling on Senate Leadership to listen to more than 80,000 of our members who demand reform of the Patriot Act.

This Friday and bin Laden's recent death, present our lawmakers with the opportunity to restore our civil liberties. We at Demand Progress have not seen the proper attention paid by lawmakers to implications that the PATRIOT Act has for our nation and our culture.  We believe that if we wish to live in a nation of liberty and justice a law like the PATRIOT Act cannot become a permanent fixture in our national character. Please join your voice to ours and sign our petition to Congress (http://act.demandprogress.org/obl_patriot).

Both Democrats and Republicans are seeking to extend provisions of the Act without any meaningful or critical discussion on their merits.  An amendment extending warrantless wiretaps and “lone wolf” surveillance has been attached to a bill supporting small businesses, in response to Rand Paul’s filibustering a debate-less extension of the Act.

The values of America are based on liberty and freedom, not fear. Let Congress know you still believe this.

Sign our petition here. (http://act.demandprogress.org/obl_patriot)

Osama Bin Laden Is Dead, But Will The Patriot Act Live On?

The Patriot Act is (again) up for renewal this month. Now remember, it was initially enacted as a supposedly-temporary measure in the wake of 9-11, but more and more of it keeps getting made permanent and the rest has been continually extended for the past decade. With the death of Bin Laden, it's finally time for Congress to bring back the pre-9-11 legal norm, before we decided it was OK to toss out our civil liberties if the “bad guys” were scary enough.
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Unusual split in Iowa delegation as House scraps wasteful jet engine funding

In a surprising victory for common sense over lobbying by major defense contractor General Electric, the House of Representatives on February 16 scrapped funding for an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter backup engine the Pentagon doesn’t want.  The amendment to the continuing resolution on defense funding for the current fiscal year passed on an unusual bipartisan vote; 123 Democrats and 110 Republicans voted to kill the $450 million appropriation, while 130 Republicans and 68 Democrats voted to keep money for the jet engine in the bill (roll call). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was the only member of the Iowa House delegation to vote for ending the funding. He should cite this vote as evidence that he is serious about tackling government waste. Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) all voted against the amendment. They should explain why they want to spend $450 million this fiscal year to continue a program that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has called “a waste of nearly $3 billion.”

Loebsack serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Boswell used to serve on that committee but no longer does in the new Congress.

In other Congressional news, the U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013 with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

Iowa delegation split as House passes PATRIOT Act extension

The House of Representatives passed an extension of three PATRIOT Act provisions yesterday by a vote of 275 to 144. The roll call shows that Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted for the bill, as did all but 27 members of their caucus. Leonard Boswell (IA-03) was among 65 Democrats voting for the extensions, while Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted with the majority of the Democratic caucus against the bill.

Iowa’s representatives voted the same way last week when a similar measure failed to win the two-thirds majority needed for passage under special House rules.

Open Congress summarized the bill as follows:

Extends three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on February, 28, 2011. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. These would be extended straight up — i.e. no reforms — and would expire again under the bill on December 8, 2011.

According to the Washington Post, senators “are debating three competing proposals that would either permanently extend the [PATRIOT Act] provisions or extend them through 2013.”

UPDATE: The U.S. Senate approved a three-month extension for controversial PATRIOT Act provisions on February 15 by a vote of 86 to 12. Senator Chuck Grassley voted yes, as did all but two of his Republican colleagues. Senator Tom Harkin was among ten members of the Democratic caucus to vote no (roll call). Harkin’s office did not issue a statement on this vote and did not respond to my request for comment, so I don’t know whether he is against all efforts to extend those controversial PATRIOT Act provisions, or whether he would support Senator Pat Leahy’s bill to extend the provisions through 2013with “additional safeguards to the act which would provide for increased oversight of U.S. Intelligence gathering tools.” Grassley has introduced a rival Senate bill that would permanently extend the government surveillance powers.  

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Boswell votes with Republicans but PATRIOT Act extension fails (for now)

A bill to extend parts of the PATRIOT Act fell seven votes short of passage in the House of Representatives yesterday. A summary at OpenCongress.org explains that this bill

Extends three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that are set to expire on February, 28, 2011. They include the authority for “roving” wiretaps that allows the government to monitor computers that may occasionally be used by suspected terrorists, the “tangible records provision” that requires banks, telecoms and libraries to hand over any customer information the government requests without informing the customer, and the “lone wolf” provision allowing the government to track international terrorist groups. These would be extended straight up — i.e. no reforms — and would expire again under the bill on December 8, 2011.

Although 277 House members voted for the bill and only 148 opposed it, the measure failed because it had been brought to the floor under special rules that limit debate but require a two-thirds majority. The roll call shows that 67 Democrats voted with the majority of the Republican caucus in favor of the PATRIOT Act extension, but 26 Republicans voted with most of the Democratic caucus against the bill.

Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted no yesterday, while Democrat Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted yes. In all likelihood this bill will pass later this month when House leaders bring it to the floor under normal rules, requiring only 218 yes votes to pass.

Boswell’s vote yesterday is consistent with his record in this area. He voted for the PATRIOT Act in 2001 and its extension in 2005. He also voted with most House Republicans on the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008. Last year, Boswell voted for another PATRIOT Act extension bill that Loebsack and Braley opposed.

If Boswell faces a Democratic primary challenge in the new third Congressional district in 2012, his voting record on government surveillance may become a campaign issue. During his 2008 primary race against Ed Fallon, Boswell temporarily changed his stand on the FISA Act. He reverted to his original position after winning the primary.

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Reaction to the new Arizona immigration law

Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed a law yesterday that makes it “a state crime to be in the country illegally” and “requires local law enforcement to determine an individual’s immigration status if an officer suspects that person is in the country illegally.” Civil rights groups are already preparing federal lawsuits, and President Barack Obama called the bill “misguided”, adding, “I’ve instructed members of my admininstration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation.”

The American Civil Liberties Union explained why we should be outraged about this law:

The law creates new immigration crimes and penalties inconsistent with those in federal law, asserts sweeping authority to detain and transport persons suspected of violating civil immigration laws and prohibits speech and other expressive activity by persons seeking work. The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona strongly condemn the governor’s decision to sign the unconstitutional law and are dismayed by her disregard for the serious damage it could cause to civil liberties and public safety in the state.[…]

The new law, which will not go into effect for more than 90 days, requires police agencies across Arizona to investigate the immigration status of every person they come across whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully. To avoid arrest, citizens and immigrants will effectively have to carry their “papers” at all times. The law also makes it a state crime for immigrants to willfully fail to register with the Department of Homeland Security and carry registration documents. It further curtails the free speech rights of day laborers and encourages unchecked information sharing between government agencies.

Naturally, conservatives who claim to be for small government love the expansion of police powers in Arizona.

Representative Raul Grijalva, one of the leaders of the House Progressive Caucus, closed his Arizona offices yesterday following threatening phone calls. Grijalva also “called on businesses and groups looking for convention and meeting locations to boycott Arizona.” Already yesterday the American Immigration Lawyers Association canceled plans to hold the group’s fall national convention in Scottsdale. A petition has been created to urge California’s state pension fund to “divest from all Arizona companies” and sell all Arizona real estate.

The law may never be enforced, depending on what happens with the federal lawsuits, but some people are predicting it will boost support for Democrats among Latino voters.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. For comic relief, I recommend reading the official statement from Arizona Hispanic Republicans. After criticizing the (Republican) state legislators who spearheaded the bill and the (Republican) governor who signed the bill, they say they are “ultimately holding President Obama accountable,” because “Obama promised Hispanics that he would pass immigration reform within 90 days of his Presidency.  Had Obama carried out his promises to Hispanics last year, the Hispanic community would not be experiencing the crisis we are experiencing right now.” That’s quite a creative way to misdirect blame.

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Government eavesdropping on Americans makes me feel so much safer


Hey, everyone! Our tax dollars paid for National Security Agency employees to listen to phone sex and other private conversations between U.S. military personnel in the Middle East and their families.

Plus, the NSA continued to eavesdrop on American citizens they knew to be working for the Red Cross and other aid organizations.

NSA employees also routinely listened to American journalists working in Baghdad’s Green Zone as they called their homes and offices in the U.S.

Key comment from one of the whistleblowers:

Kinne says the success stories underscored for her the waste of time spent listening to innocent Americans, instead of looking for the terrorist needle in the haystack.

“By casting the net so wide and continuing to collect on Americans and aid organizations, it’s almost like they’re making the haystack bigger and it’s harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody,” she said. “You’re actually hurting our ability to effectively protect our national security.”

By the way, you know who never met a Bush administration wiretapping program he didn’t like? My own Congressman Leonard Boswell, who sits on the House Intelligence Committee. In case you forgot, he was one of 41 House Democrats who voted with most House Republicans to expand the executive branch’s eavesdropping power, as outlined by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Maybe these whistleblowers can come explain to Congress that massively expanding government surveillance doesn’t just undermine civil liberties, it also makes it “harder to find that piece of information that might actually be useful to somebody.”

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FISA capitulation open thread

The Senate will debate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act today. Despite the heroic efforts of Senators Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold, all signs point toward capitulation by the Democrats.

Glenn Greenwald again tells you why you should care.

Daily Kos front-pager smintheus explains why the advocates touting this new, improved version of FISA are wrong about the oversight potential of inspectors-general.

The Barack Obama supporters against the FISA bill have been organizing at an incredible pace, but he indicated last week that he will vote for the bill. How far will he go in supporting various amendments offered by Senate Democrats?

I won’t be watching C-SPAN today, but if you are, feel free to “document the atrocities” in the comments (as Atrios might say).

UPDATE: mcjoan has more detail on the key votes that will take place today.

SECOND UPDATE: The FISA bill passed 69-28, with three not voting. McCain dodged another big vote.

The roll call vote is here:


No surprises from the Iowa senators: Grassley voted yes, and Harkin voted no.

Obama voted yes, as expected. Hillary voted no.

For those following the debate on Obama and FISA

Did Barack Obama sell us out by endorsing the new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and not showing up to support a filibuster of that bad bill last week?

Are too many Obama supporters in the netroots making up excuses to cover for him?

Or are the bloggers criticizing Obama being way too tough on a guy whose overriding concern has to be to get elected?

Is it right for some activists to say they no longer plan to volunteer for Obama’s campaign because he has failed to stand up for us on FISA?

Here are some links to good diaries exploring those questions.

Nathaniel Ament Stone is sure that Obama’s actions on FISA are better than they appear at first glance: Obama’s Outsmarted Us Again.

Big Tent Democrat argues that Obama is just like any politician and contrasts Obama’s previous statements on retroactive immunity for telecoms with his recent actions.

JedReport thinks the activists vowing not to lift a finger to help Obama (beyond voting for him) are making a big mistake: President McCain Just Got Elected, But That’s Okay.

Mike Lux seems to think the criticism of Obama over FISA is a waste of time, since “there is literally no acceptable way of holding a Democratic Presidential candidate accountable in the last few months before a general election.”

Chris Bowers counters, I Thought I Was Helping Obama. His point is:

First, we lefties are repeatedly told that it is necessary for Democrats to distance themselves from us in order to win elections. However, we are then we are told that we should be quiet in our criticism of Democrats, even though such criticism overtly distances Democrats from us.

I don’t get it. Aren’t we helping Democrats out by distancing them from us? Won’t Obama be helped by news stories about how he has angered the left? Won’t it make him look like he has Sista Soulhaj-ed us, or something? Why is our criticism a negative? Either Obama will be helped by distancing himself from the left, or he won’t. And, if he will be helped by distancing himself from the left, then our criticism should actually help him, especially when it starts to appear in news stories like these:

–National Journal: The Netroots Push Back

–Newsweek: Netroots Angry At Obama

–CBS: Netroots Feel Jilted By Obama Over FISA

Through our criticism of Obama, aren’t the netroots providing exactly the distance from lefties that we have always been told Democrats need to win? And, as such, aren’t we really helping Obama?

Attorney NCrissieB, who has experience with legal arguments surrounding the Fourth Amendment, offers A pragmatist’s view on FISA.

Wmtriallawyer, a vocal supporter of Obama this past year, has a warning: Barack, Take Note: FISA Demonstrates What’s Wrong with Washington. Key excerpt:

Sen. Obama, are you getting to see the problem now? As much as you talk about the partisan rancor that usually stalemates Washington (and I agree with you believe me), you’ve got to watch out for the so-called bipartisan compromises that actually serve noone but a few entrenched interests.

THIS has been the problem in Washington for years now.  The partisan fights occur over issues that actually matter and can benefit the people, and the bipartisan stuff compromises are over insidious stuff that benefits noone but the entrenched few.

Chris Bowers makes a strong case for taking Obama at his word instead of constructing theories about how he secretly agrees with FISA opponents, even as he fails to help stop the bill.

David Sirota notes that Obama has explicitly said, “You should always assume that when I cast a vote or make a statement it is because it is what I believe in.”

The exchange between Salon’s Glenn Greenwald and MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann is worth your time. Here is Greenwald’s original post, which contrasted Olbermann’s scathing commentary about President Bush’s support for FISA a few months ago with Olbermann’s cheering as Barack Obama goes along with the same bill.

Olbermann posted a response that shot to the top of the Daily Kos recommended list, even though he admitted not to have read Greenwald’s entire post.

Greenwald’s next shot was wonderful: Keith Olbermann’s reply and Obama’s secret plan to protect the rule of law.

Then Olbermann changes the subject with a crowd-pleasing diary about Grover Norquist saying Obama is “John Kerry with a tan.” Nice try!

The final vote on FISA will take place after the Senate’s July 4 recess, but efforts to remove the provision granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies appear unlikely to succeed.  

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Guess which Iowan just won the "jackass award"?

Over at the Washington Independent, Spencer Ackerman has given Congressman Steve King the “jackass award”. Here’s why:

He says first that we can’t trust interrogators who want to “cuddle up to someone” to get the truth, even though that’s pretty close to what professional interrogators actually do to get the truth. And then he says that Bush used the same “aggressive” reasoning to go into Iraq to deal with weapons of mass destruction, because if he hadn’t and “we had been attacked again,” or if we hadn’t waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and then we were attacked again, then the critics now would be perhaps impeaching Bush. This is his defense! A mess of counterfactual conditionals, factual misstatements (there, like, weren’t any WMDs in Iraq) and pure, unadulterated politics. God bless Mr. King.

Please help rid our state of this national embarrassment. Support Rob Hubler, Democratic candidate in the fifth district, with a donation before the June 30 deadline.

I went over quite a few reasons to support Hubler against King in this post.

It’s also worth noting that Hubler released a strong statement opposing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that just passed the House last week.

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The moral degeneracy of the Bush administration

Today John Yoo, the great legal mind who shaped the Bush administration’s policy on torture when he worked at the Department of Justice, testified before the House Judiciary Committee. Look how he evaded a simple yes-or-no question from Committee Chairman John Conyers:

Conyers: Could the President order a suspect buried alive?

Yoo: Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the President could order someone buried alive. . .

Conyers: I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the President could order a suspect buried alive.

Yoo: Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a President . . . no American President would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.

Conyers: I think we understand the games that are being played.

Click the link to watch the video at TPMMuckraker.

The Bush administration’s policy on torture is an international disgrace. One of its legal architects won’t even concede that the president  can’t order a suspect to be buried alive.  

Unfortunately, John McCain has supported laws that give the president the discretion to define torture however he wants.

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FISA filibuster fails in Senate

Ian Welsh explains what happened tonight:

The FISA Cloture vote just passed. The Senate will now consider the motion to proceed with the bill, then they’ll head to the bill itself (corrected procedural details, h/t and thanks to CBolt). Various motions will be put forward to strip immunity, odds are they will fail. Then a number of the 80 who voted to restrict debate will vote against FISA so they can say they were against the bill. However this was the real vote, and the rest is almost certainly nothing but kabuki for the rubes.

Obama and McCain were both absent, as was Clinton. Unimpressive, but unsurprising, though I suppose I’m disappointed by Clinton (Obama has made it clear he didn’t intend to try and stop the bill.) Clinton and Obama will claim there was no point since it wasn’t close. But, with their leadership, it might well have gone the other way.

It wasn’t even close. We needed 41 votes to block the cloture motion on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but the vote went 80-15 against us.

Here is the roll call. I’m proud to say that Tom Harkin was one of the 15 who tried to stop this bad bill from reaching the Senate floor.

I have contempt for Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, who claimed to oppose the bill but voted yes on the cloture motion and did nothing behind the scenes to block this bill either.

He is acting like Joe Lieberman, who bragged about how he voted against confirming Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, even though he didn’t support the filibuster of that nomination.

Obama wasn’t there for the FISA vote tonight, and it’s disappointing that he didn’t publicly support the filibuster effort. See this post and this one comparing what he said last October about telecom immunity to what he has said about the FISA bill in recent days.

I don’t expect strong leadership from Obama if he does get elected president. He seems too cautious on this and many other issues.  

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A few good links on FISA

Paul Rosenberg put up a post well worth your time if you are disturbed by the House vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Key point:

MapLight.org is reporting that House Democrats who changed their vote to support Telco immunity received much more, on average than their counterparts who did not change position.  This is a group correlation, of course.  Not all those who voted for immunity received more money than those who voted against.  Indeed, 11 of those who voted for immunity received nothing at all from the three Telcos.  But the group correlation is quite strong.

Click the link to find a chart listing all 94 House Democrats who voted against retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies on March 14, but voted for the FISA bill containing immunity on June 20. (Our own Leonard Boswell is in this group). The chart shows how much money each of them received in PAC contributions from AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.

Boswell is in the middle of the pack, having received $10,000. I wouldn’t assume those contributions are the only reason he has favored the telecommunications companies’ interests over protecting constitutional rights. But he does have a long history of voting with Republicans and corporate interests rather than with the majority of House Democrats on a lot of issues.

The Des Moines Register ran a strongly-worded editorial on FISA in the Wednesday edition:

Federal law authorizing secret intercepts of international communications may need amending to account for changes in technology and behavior of terrorist groups, but the job should be put off for a new Congress and a new president next year. In the current political climate, with an election looming, the temptation is to ram something – anything – through to avoid the accusation of being weak on terrorism, even if the constitutional privacy rights of American citizens are sacrificed in the process.

That apparently motivated 105 House Democrats to go along with 188 Republicans to give President Bush what the Washington Post described as “one of the last major victories he is likely to achieve.” That, along with the administration’s last-minute decision to allow the Democrats to toss in an additional $95 billion in domestic spending in a war-appropriations bill.

That’s a pathetically small price for authorizing this president, and future presidents, to ignore the 4th Amendment restrictions on “unreasonable searches and seizures.” […]

Those are just some of the problems with the House bill. It’s hard to say how many others exist, however, because there was precious little public debate. The operations of the spying program are classified secrets, and only a select few members of Congress have been clued in on how it works. Even legal experts are struggling to decipher the bill.

This is in stark contrast to 30 years ago, when the FISA law was enacted after months of public discussion, hearings and testimony. Changing the law implicating a fundamental constitutional right mandates nothing short of that same process today.

My only quibble with this editorial is where were the Register’s reporters on this issue during the third district primary campaign?

Boswell advocated retroactive immunity for telecoms in February, then changed his position in March. In early May, there was some speculation that he had cooperated with House Republicans to get this provision back on the table.

I tried for weeks to get Boswell’s office to comment on this issue and got the runaround. Naturally, they were not going to return phone calls from a blogger supporting Ed Fallon. But the Register’s Jane Norman or Thomas Beaumont could have at least forced Boswell to clarify where he stood on FISA before Iowa Democrats voted on June 3. Why didn’t the Register’s assignment editors give this issue some space this spring?

Glenn Greenwald has been writing extensively on FISA over at Salon, and I highly recommend his latest post, Chris Dodd’s speech and a glimmer of hope for stopping the FISA bill. It’s long and includes some great quotes from Dodd and Senator Russ Feingold, as well as many other links to good commentary on this issue.

Speaking of Feingold, Josh Orton of MyDD linked to the Progressive Patriots Fund Campaign Store. (Feingold is the honorary chair of that fund.) At the store you can buy t-shirts and mousepads with the slogan “Don’t Spy On Me” and a drawing of a telephone cord curled up like the famous Revolutionary War-era “Don’t Tread On Me” flag featuring a rattlesnake.

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Senate may delay FISA vote until after July 4 recess

The invaluable Kagro X says the Senate vote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act may be delayed until after the July 4 recess. Click the link to read why–it’s a bit complicated.

Daily Kos user dday has more on the story, but cautions that a final FISA vote could still take place in the Senate this week.

Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is willing to filibuster this very bad bill, but right now it looks like we don’t have the 41 votes to defeat a cloture motion.

I don’t pretend to understand all the parliamentary maneuvering, but I do know that if you don’t have the votes to stop a bad bill today, delaying the vote can’t hurt and may even help your cause.

The House of Representatives passed the FISA bill last Friday. In the Iowa delegation, Steve King, Tom Latham and Leonard Boswell voted for the bill, while Dave Loebsack and Bruce Braley voted against it.

FISA capitulation: Which Iowa Democrat voted with the Republicans?

The House of Representatives approved the so-called “compromise” on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that in fact gave the Republicans and the White House everything they wanted.

One of Iowa’s three Democratic representatives voted with the Republicans. Can you guess which one without peeking here at the roll call vote?

That’s right, Leonard Boswell voted with the Republicans.

Bruce Braley and Dave Loebsack stuck with the majority of the House Democratic caucus and voted against this bill.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama came out against the immunity provision in the FISA bill today. His full statement on the bill is here, but the most important part seems to be this comment about the telecom immunity provision:

I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

Some people who follow this issue closely feel Obama’s statement didn’t go far enough. In particular, it is not clear whether “work in the Senate to remove this provision” would include supporting a filibuster of the bill.

In the good news column, Rob Hubler, Democratic candidate in the fifth district, sent the blogger Glenn Greenwald a strong statement opposing retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. Here is a copy of that statement, which the Hubler campaign sent to me:

Dear Mr. Greenwald,

As  the Democratic nominee for Congress in Iowa’s Fifth Congressional District, I want you to know that I appreciate very much the initiative you  have taken to oppose and expose the FISA Amendments Act of  2008. This bill effectively guarantees retroactive immunity  for telecom companies that participated in the President’s illegal wiretap  program, and fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home.

If elected, I would vigorously oppose this measure, which would essentially  require the court to grant immunity, and authorize surveillance on citizens without adequate checks and balances to protect their  rights.

I  believe that the constitutional rights of everyday Americans are at issue  here, and full accountability is needed.  No President  should ever have unchecked power.

As  a member of Congress, I will support legislation that preserves appropriate  court review of all surveillance of U. S. citizens, and I will not vote for immunity for telecom companies.

Americans  in the U. S. with no connection to suspected terrorists should never have  their privacy abridged by an overzealous, unchecked executive  branch.


Rob  L. Hubler

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ACTION: Call Boswell today on FISA bill

The House of Representatives may vote very soon on a bad compromise that would in effect grant retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies in the new version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

If you live in Iowa’s third district, please call Congressman Leonard Boswell TODAY at 202-225-3806 to tell him to stand up for civil liberties and oppose the Senate version of the FISA bill.

His staff will notice if they get a lot of calls on this issue.

Background: Boswell was one of the “Blue Dogs” who supported the Republican position on this bill in February.

He changed his position a month later and stood with the majority of House Democrats.

The New York Times blog has more on the FISA compromise here.

Boswell changes stand on FISA bill

The U.S. House has been debating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The invaluable Kagro X, one of the very best analysts ever to post at Daily Kos, explained some of the complicated legislative maneuvers in this post yesterday. Kagro X gave the short version of what’s going on in this post earlier today.

Click that first link if you’ve been disappointed in Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, because he did a very clever thing on this bill.

You will recall that Leonard Boswell was one of 21 House Democrats to work with Republicans to try to secure retroactive immunity for telecom companies in this bill. Some background information is here.

Well, today Boswell has joined with the majority of House Democrats. mcjoan has more at Daily Kos, including a statement from Boswell.

Raise your hand if you think Boswell would have changed his position on this issue if he were not facing a primary challenge from Ed Fallon.

UPDATE: mcjoan explains what happened here:


Boswell and 12 other blue dogs stuck with the Democrats today. Good for them.

SECOND UPDATE: Call Boswell’s office and thank him for this vote:

Rep. Leonard L. Boswell, D-Iowa — Phone: (202) 225-3806, Fax: (202) 225-5608

According to Daily Kos user Los Diablo,


* [new] I just got off the phone with his D.C. office (9+ / 0-)

Recommended by:

   Rolfyboy6, Miss Blue, oldjohnbrown, 3goldens, Ma Joad, mffarrow, robroser, eco d, llamaRCA

and they thanked me for thanking him because they are getting a hammered with negative calls because he supported this.

Senator Tom Harkin: Bush has vetoed him more than any senator.

by Los Diablo on Fri Mar 14, 2008 at 12:18:30 PM PDT

By the way, I love Los Diablo’s signature line about Harkin!

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Dodd stands up for civil liberties; which Senate Democrats will stand with him?

Today is a big day in the Senate. Majority leader Harry Reid has decided not to honor Chris Dodd’s hold on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Dodd objects to a provision that would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies that illegally helped the U.S. government spy on Americans.

For background on the issue and Dodd’s filibuster plans, see this diary by DavidNYC and this diary by drational. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a version of this bill that would not give retroactive immunity to telecoms, but unfortunately, Reid is going to introduce the version that came out of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, which would grant immunity.

In light of some Senate Democrats’ inability to stand up to the Bush administration on a whole range of issues lately, I am not optimistic that we will find 41 votes to uphold Dodd’s filibuster. Or, to put it another way, I fear that the other side will easily get enough Democrats on board to reach the 60 votes needed to break Dodd’s filibuster.

But let’s all hope I am wrong.

Memo to Senators Clinton, Obama, and Biden, who often tout their leadership qualities on the stump: show us you’re a leader by standing with Dodd today.

UPDATE: Head over to Daily Kos (www.dailykos.com) and MyDD (www.mydd.com), where several posters and diarists are keeping us all up to date on what’s going on today in the Senate. Video clips of Dodd speaking on the Senate floor are at MyDD.

SECOND UPDATE: The maneuvering was a little confusing today, but Dodd was able to buy us some time as Harry Reid pulled consideration of this bill until next month. Watch Dodd explain who helped him accomplish this and what still needs to be done:

Thank you, Senator Dodd. He’s my second choice, and I will absolutely try to help him get a delegate in my precinct if I can do so without costing John Edwards a delegate.

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