Grassley yes, Harkin no on five more years of warrantless wiretapping

The U.S. Senate voted today to extend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for five more years, allowing “electronic eavesdropping” without a warrant to continue in the U.S. and abroad. President Barack Obama (who at one time opposed the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping policy) will sign the bill sometime before the end of December 31. Follow me after the jump for details on the Senate voting, including how Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted on various amendments.

When the U.S. House approved this bill in September, four of the five Iowans voted yes: Democrats Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) was among 118 House members to oppose the bill.

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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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In Retrospect: Who is Really Un-American??

(Charles Lemos is also worth reading on this subject: It's Time for a Special Prosecutor. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Crossposted from Hillbilly Report.

You know, one thing I get so sick of hearing from all the right-wing loons is how Progressives like myself and many of you are un-American. We have our patriotism questioned on a daily basis. Right-Wing idiots on the radio rail about how we do not believe in the Constitution and the values this country was founded on. Well, details that have emerged in the last couple of days show that the Bush Administration and their shameless enablers in the Republican Party and the former Republican Congress are the ones who really do not believe in the Constitution, or the freedoms granted by it.

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What's a little domestic surveillance between friends?

I know it isn’t polite to say I told you so, but last year many of us warned that the Bush administration’s proposed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would increase domestic surveillance of American citizens. Congressional Republicans and a minority of Democrats didn’t heed those warnings, though, and in some cases ridiculed the critics of the FISA amendments.

Look what the New York Times reported on Wednesday:

The National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year, government officials said in recent interviews.

Several intelligence officials, as well as lawyers briefed about the matter, said the N.S.A. had been engaged in “overcollection” of domestic communications of Americans. They described the practice as significant and systemic, although one official said it was believed to have been unintentional.

I agree with Charles Lemos:

I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you. Massive domestic spying without meaningful oversight in the United States. No limits on surveillance power, what a grand idea.

Barack Obama voted for the bad FISA compromise, even though many of his supporters warned that the oversight provisions were inadequate. I expect his administration to do something to correct the abuses.

Josh Orton noted today that the Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division, David Kris, promised during his confirmation hearings “to get to the bottom of the FISA amendments act” and “to see how best to make any necessary improvements.” Sounds like he has his work cut out for him.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, says her committee will investigate the alleged violations by the National Security Agency.

UPDATE: Read this post by mcjoan for more good links and analysis.

Also, the New York Times reported that a member of Congress was wiretapped. Spencer Ackerman narrows the list of possible targets down to 27 members of Congress.

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Obama taps Leon Panetta to head the CIA

In one of his most surprising picks, President-elect Barack Obama will nominate Leon Panetta, a former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, to head the Central Intelligence Agency.

I am inclined to think that this was a smart choice. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was already griping that Panetta lacks significant intelligence experience, but I don’t want an insider at the CIA now. As Spencer Ackerman noted, Panetta is on record opposing the use of torture:

We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

According to the New York Times, the Obama team was explicitly looking for someone without connections to controversial intelligence practices during George Bush’s presidency:

Aides have said Mr. Obama had originally hoped to select a C.I.A. head with extensive field experience, especially in combating terrorist networks. But his first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amidst criticism over his role in the formation of the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Members of Mr. Obama’s transition also raised concerns about other candidates, even some Democratic lawmakers with intelligence experience. Representative Jane Harman of California, formerly the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was considered for the job, but she was ruled out as a candidate in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program.

In disclosing the pick, officials pointed to Mr. Panetta’s sharp managerial skills, his strong bipartisan standing on Capitol Hill, his significant foreign policy experience in the White House and his service on the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel that examined the war and made recommendations on United States policy. The officials noted that he had a handle on intelligence spending from his days as director of the Office and Management and Budget.

Panetta ran the OMB for Clinton before being promoted to chief of staff, where he would have been privy to the president’s daily intelligence briefings.

Feinstein seems way off-base to suggest Panetta lacks the qualifications for this job. Her comments to the New York Times suggest that she’s offended not to have been informed about this pick in advance.

I am pleasantly surprised that Obama was looking for someone without connections to Bush’s eavesdropping program, given the way Obama caved on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last summer.

What do you think?

UPDATE: Laura Rozen quotes a bunch of former intelligence officials and finds a mixed reaction to the choice.

Also, Bleeding Heartland commenter amcsepboe provides more reaction and background.

SECOND UPDATE: Other bloggers are already compiling evidence to show that Feinstein and her colleague on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, repeatedly enabled the Bush administration on torture and wiretapping.

EmperorHadrian goes over Feinstein’s history of supporting pro-torture Bush nominees.

Kula2316 has lots more reaction to the Panetta appointment here. The more I hear about the people who don’t like the pick, the more I think Panetta is the right person for the job.

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Bleeding Heartland Year in Review: Iowa politics in 2008

Last year at this time I was scrambling to make as many phone calls and knock on as many doors as I could before the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

This week I had a little more time to reflect on the year that just ended.

After the jump I’ve linked to Bleeding Heartland highlights in 2008. Most of the links relate to Iowa politics, but some also covered issues or strategy of national importance.

I only linked to a few posts about the presidential race. I’ll do a review of Bleeding Heartland’s 2008 presidential election coverage later this month.

You can use the search engine on the left side of the screen to look for past Bleeding Heartland diaries about any person or issue.

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What can we learn from Congressional voting patterns in 2008?

Thanks to John Deeth, I learned that Congressional Quarterly has released its annual rankings of how members of Congress voted. The full chart is here. You can check how often the representatives and senators voted with President Bush, how often they voted with the majority of their own party, and how often they were present to vote.

Deeth noticed that our own Senator Tom Harkin

voted against George Bush’s declared position more than any other senator in 2008, according to Congressional Quarterly vote scores. Harkin opposed Bush’s position 75 percent of the time.

Harkin voted with fellow Senate Democrats 97 percent of the time and participated in 98 percent of the Senate votes in 2008. That’s an impressive attendance record for a senator up for re-election, though admittedly Christopher Reed wasn’t much of an opponent.

Chuck Grassley had a perfect attendance record for Senate votes in 2008. He voted with Bush 72 percent of the time (that’s a low number for Grassley) and with the majority of Senate Republicans 93 percent of the time.

In our House delegation, Steve King (IA-05) voted with Bush the most often in 2008, 77 percent of the time. King voted with the majority in the Republican caucus 97 percent of the time and had a 98 percent attendance record.

Tom Latham (IA-04) was unusually willing to vote against Bush’s stated position this year, voting with Bush only 63 percent of the time. Latham recognized early that a Democratic wave was building and sought to rebrand himself as a moderate, independent thinker in his swing district. He still voted with fellow Republicans 90 percent of the time, and had a near-perfect 99 percent attendance record.

Congressional Quarterly’s rankings show surprisingly little difference between Iowa Democrats in the House. Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) both voted with Bush 13 percent of the time, while Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted with Bush 17 percent of the time. Their party loyalty rankings were almost identical, with Braley and Boswell voting with the Democratic majority 98 percent of the time, and Loebsack hitting 97 percent on that metric. They all had good attendance, with Braley making 92 percent of the votes, Loebsack 93 percent, and Boswell 88 percent despite having surgery that required a two-week hospital stay in the summer.

The differences between Iowa’s Democratic members of Congress are more apparent when you look at their Progressive Punch rankings. Considering all his votes in 2007 and 2008, Boswell was the 180th most progressive member of the House, with a progressive score of 92.38. That’s a big improvement on his lifetime progressive score of 74.36; Boswell is clearly a more reliable vote when Democrats are the majority party that controls what comes up for a vote. Ed Fallon’s primary challenge probably nudged Boswell toward more progressive voting as well.

But even the new, improved Boswell had a progressive score of only 67.86 “when the chips were down” in 2007 and 2008. The Progressive Punch “chips are down” rankings take into account particularly important votes, such as the controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Loebsack ranked 123rd among House Democrats with a progressive score of 95.41 for all his 2007 and 2008 votes and a score of 80.79 “when the chips were down.”

Braley was not far behind at number 147 among House Democrats, with an overall progressive score of 94.48 and a “chips are down” score of 76.65.

It will be interesting to see whether Boswell’s voting habits change much in 2009, with no primary challenger likely to emerge.

Looking at the big picture, Congressional Quarterly’s Richard Rubin draws some conclusions from that publication’s analysis of voting in 2008:

Bush’s side prevailed on just 47.8 percent of roll call votes in 2008 where he took a clear position. That is the eighth-lowest score in the 56-year history of the survey, although it was higher than Bush’s 38.3 percent success rate in 2007. Congress forced him to accept a farm bill and Medicare doctor-payment changes he didn’t want, and lawmakers challenged him repeatedly on issues from tobacco regulation to infrastructure spending.

Moderate Republicans fled from the president as the election neared, and the average House Republican supported Bush just 64 percent of the time. That’s down 8 percentage points from a year ago and the lowest for a president’s party since 1990, midway through Bush’s father’s term in the White House. His average support score of 70 percent among GOP senators was also the lowest for a president’s party since 1990.

As in 2007, Democrats voted with Bush far less often than they had when the Republicans were in charge and could set the agenda. House Democrats voted with Bush just 16 percent of the time on average — above their 2007 support score of 7 percent but still the second lowest for any president. Democratic senators joined Bush on 34 percent of roll call votes, down from their average support score of 37 percent a year ago. […]

At the same time, despite his political weakness, Democratic control of Congress and frequent defeats, Bush got his way on some of the biggest issues of the year.

Playing offense, the administration secured more money for his effort to fight AIDS globally and cemented a nuclear-cooperation deal with India. But Bush scored most often with blocking tactics, using threatened vetoes and the Senate filibuster to avoid significant changes to his Iraq policies, major restrictions on intelligence- gathering tactics, and removal of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He was a resilient pinata, losing plenty of votes along the way but remaining the biggest obstacle to the Democrats’ ability to turn their campaign agenda into law.

Rubin’s analysis shows that Latham is far from a maverick within the Republican caucus. He moved away from Bush in 2008 almost exactly in step with fellow House Republicans.

Taking a broader look at the trends, I see two lessons for Democrats here. First, Barack Obama should understand that driving a very hard bargain with Congress often pays off. You don’t have to back down at the first sign of serious opposition. If even an extremely unpopular president was able to do reasonably well with a Congress controlled by the other party, a new president who is quite popular like Obama should be able to get most of what he wants from a Congress controlled by his own party.

If any of Obama’s proposals fail the first year, he should consider trying again later without watering them down. Bush wasn’t able to get everything he wanted out of the Republican-controlled Congress during his first year or two, but he kept at it and was able to get much of his agenda through eventually. Many tax cuts not included in the 2001 package got through in later years. He didn’t get the energy bill he wanted until 2005.

The second lesson is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It’s long past time to start making the Republicans pay a price for using the filibuster. Otherwise they will continue to use it routinely to block Obama’s agenda.

Nate Silver recently looked at how Republicans have used the filibuster since Democrats gained the majority in Congress. He concluded that Reid “has been exceptionally ineffective”:

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party’s legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

Time to play hardball in the Senate, not only with Republicans but also with Evan Bayh and his merry band of “Blue Dogs” if they collude with Republicans to obstruct Obama’s agenda.

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AT&T got its money's worth from the Blue Dogs

AT&T threw an invitation-only party on Monday night for the “Blue Dogs” in the House of Representatives. Matt Stoller found a blurb in the newspaper about this party:

Just because the Blue Dogs are fiscally conservative doesn’t mean they can’t have a good time, especially when AT&T is picking up the bill.

Why would AT&T want to throw an expensive party for the Blue Dogs? Maybe it’s because most of those Blue Dogs (including my own Congressman Leonard Boswell) voted with the House Republicans to pass a version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act containing retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies that spied on Americans.

A group of well-known bloggers showed up outside the exclusive Denver restaurant to see who turned up. Glenn Greenwald of Salon, who wrote a book’s worth of material this year on FISA, tried to interview the people going into this party. Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake was there:

It was remarkable. I’ve never seen anything like it, really.  Glenn would announce that he was from Salon.com, ask them if they would be interviewed about the party, and nobody wanted to say who they were or even acknowledge that they knew what the party was about.

Almost every single person we talked with had the good sense to be ashamed of being there, but that didn’t stop them from going in.

I haven’t been able to confirm whether Boswell attended this party. Think Progress quotes the San Francisco Examiner, which reported that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was there:

Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Bernards said Hoyer was not aware of any connection between the party and his work on the legislation.

“I’m sure Mr. Hoyer didn’t even know who the sponsor was,” she said.

Right. He had no idea who sponsored the party, even though numerous reports named AT&T as the sponsor. I’m sure Hoyer goes to parties all the time without asking who invited him.

From the San Francisco Examiner report:

AT&T is just one example of how political conventions have become a virtual bazaar where corporations and other special interests can peddle their wares, showcase their products and make a case for their favorite (or least favorite) piece of pending legislation.

The Texas-based company has the most high-profile corporate presence in Denver. It is a major sponsor at the convention, it is holding daily lunches for state delegations at the Pinnacle Club, with its startling views of the Rocky Mountain range, and co-hosting hip parties for the likes of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the New Democratic Coalition.

I seem to remember someone talking about the system being rigged because corporations have too much power in Washington, and how it wouldn’t be enough to replace corporate Republicans with corporate Democrats.

Oh yeah, it was that guy whose personal screw-up cost him a speaking slot at the convention. With him out of the picture, AT&T and the Blue Dogs can rest easy, because no prime-time speaker is going to be spreading that message in Denver.

Nor, I fear, are we likely to hear it from Democratic leaders in 2009.

This yellow-dog Democrat is not looking forward to checking the box next to Blue Dog Boswell’s name in November.

My best advice to those who are still angry about the FISA capitulation is don’t buy an iPhone. Getting one locks you into AT&T phone service.  

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FISA Compromise is Worthless

Just yesterday House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was telling us that he’d basically lost control over House Democrats and that they were the ones forcing his hand in this ridiculous compromise over FISA that would grant big telecommunication companies immunity over their warrantless wiretapping and other exercises.  At about 11:30 this morning I get an email from the office of the majority leader telling me that between the House and Senate majority and minority leaders of their respective intelligence committees that a compromise has been reached–and according to the Wall Street Journal, that compromise essentially include immunity.

As David Kurtz points out at TPM, it is a ridiculous compromise that creates such a weak standard for “conditional immunity” that just about any telecom company could meet.

If Hoyer thinks he’s lot control now (but then regained it to tout this compromise) let’s show him what a lack of control looks like when the blogosphere puts the pressure on his office and Congressional Democrats across the country not to vote for this POS compromise.


Here’s the switchboard number for the Majority Leader’s Office: 202-225-3130

You can reach Iowa’s congressmen at these numbers:

  • IA-01, Bruce Braley (D): (202) 225-2911
  • IA-02, Dave Loebsack (D): (202) 225-6576
  • IA-03, Leonard Boswell (D): (202) 225-3806
  • IA-04, Tom Latham (R): (202) 225-5476
  • IA-05, Steve King (R): (202) 225-4426

Remember to be polite and concise, expressing your opposition to the FISA Amendments Act (H.R. 6304) and asking for your representative to oppose it as well.

If you get a response one way or the other on how they’d vote, leave a note in the comments.

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Did Boswell quietly revert to his initial position on telecom immunity?

Matt Stoller put up a post at Open Left today regarding the latest attempt to get retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies into the House version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

As you may recall, the Senate version of the FISA bill includes retroactive immunity for telecoms. House Democrats have so far beaten back several attempts to add that provision to the House version of the FISA bill.

On Thursday, May 8, one of the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee tried to get the Senate version of the FISA bill added to the fiscal 2009 Intelligence authorization bill. That effort was defeated by a vote of 11-10.

However, twelve Democrats serve on the House Intelligence Committee, which means that one of them voted with the nine Republicans to try to get telecom immunity in the FISA bill.

The question is whether the Democrat who voted with Republicans was our own Congressman Leonard Boswell. He is one of two likely suspects, because he and Bud Cramer (AL-05) were the only two Democrats on this committee to sign a letter in February advocating retroactive immunity for telecoms in the House version of the FISA bill.

In March, Boswell changed his position and stood with the majority of House Democrats who do not want to grant telecoms immunity in the FISA bill.

Democrats in the third district deserve to know whether Boswell has quietly reverted to his initial position, in favor of telecom immunity. According to the Open Secrets website, Boswell’s PAC contributions for the 2007/2008 election cycle alone include $10,000 from AT&T and $2,000 from Verizon.

I am trying to get a comment on this from the Boswell campaign, and I will update this diary if and when I hear back from them.

FISA Mark Up Tomorrow: Call Today!

The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to mark up the FISA reform legislation tomorrow. They had originally scheduled to do it last Thursday, but we expect it to happen this time, though it's not clear that the SJC will complete mark up tomorrow.

The bottom line is that now is the time to call the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to oppose retroactive immunity for telecom companies that helped the Bush administration spy on Americans without warrant.

We want the Senate to hear your voice on this issue — we think it's so important that we're paying for you to do the calls. Call today – and the Dodd campaign will do the dialing for you, making it free for anyone calling for a hardline to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Four Senators on the Judiciary Committee have already said they oppose retroactive immunity. We need just six more Senators to oppose retroactive immunity to kill it in committee.

Visit http://chrisdodd.com/immunity to take action now!

Christy Hardin Smith also brings up basket warrants and Emptywheel brings up minimization as other key issues that the FISA legislation needs improvement on.

Call now and report the results back:


Cross posted at Blue Hampshire, My Left Nutmeg and the Dodd Blog.

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The Very First Hour of the Very First Day

Senator Dodd's speech Saturday night at the Iowa Jefferson Jackson Dinner was truly electric. What really blew me away was his opening remarks on restoring the Constitution and standing up for the rule of law. He dedicated six minutes – a third of his speech – to the issue. While I've heard him talk about why he cares about the Constitution literally hundreds of times, his speech struck a chord in me on Saturday night. Maybe you felt the same energy hearing him rattle off the wrongs he will right as President.

Maybe it's because our country deserves a President who will do the things he pledges to do when he takes the oath of office. Or maybe it's because Chris Dodd is the only person who's stepping up now to do something about the problems he's talking about…but I thought Senator Dodd defined himself on Saturday night as the person that our country needs to be our next President.

Restoring the Constitution isn't just something Yale Law professors and liberal bloggers care about – Americans around the country of all political stripes are longing for leadership committed to returning our government to the rule of law. We saw that clearly Saturday night, as nearly 10,000 Iowans responded to Chris Dodd's commitment to act according to his oath as President. A desire to stand up for and preserve the Constitution is intrinsic in patriotic Americans, and we saw that patriotism come out at the Iowa JJ Dinner.

The bottom line is that when Senator Dodd campaigns on the Constitution, he's not making an argument about himself. The Constitution isn't about him and he's not so foolish as to think so. It's about who we are as a country and how our government is supposed to work. Saturday night, that humble understanding was rewarded with eruptions of applause.

Here's a transcript of what Senator Dodd commits to on the very first hour of his very first day in office:

  “This much I commit to you here in Iowa this evening. On the very first hour, of the very first day on January 20, 2009, as I have fought for over the last number of years in this administration — I will restore to the American people, the Constitution of the United States.”

  “You're gonna get your Constitution back! You're gonna get your Constitution back.”

  “No more Abu Ghraibs!”

  “No more Guantanamos!”

  “No more torture!”

  “No more rendering!”

  “No more providing retroactive immunity for companies that turned over their records to the Bush Administration without a court order!”

  “No more waterboarding!”

  “No more denying people habeas corpus in this country, a right that has existed for 900 years!”

  “And there will be no more Attorney Generals of the United States who believe an American President is above the law.”

  “That's gonna change.”

If you missed it, you can watch the whole speech here.

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FISA Update: A New Week of Calls

The San Francisco Chronicle has reported that California Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein will support retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies. This puts the official tally at two votes in favor and four votes opposed to telecom amnesty. We still need to convince six more Senators on the Judiciary Committee to oppose retroactive immunity to ensure that it is killed in Committee and doesn't reach the floor of the Senate.

This means one of the “nay” votes has to come from a Republican member of Committee, which does not seem incredibly likely. The Republican who we'd previously targeted as most likely to vote the right was was Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Since Specter has also introduced a proposal that would indemnify the telecom companies by making the federal government sole defendant in all of the pending cases against the industry. This proposal – retroactive immunity by another name – makes it look unlikely that Specter will oppose other forms of immunity.

There are two paths from here:

First, we must continue to call all members of the Senate Judiciary who aren't currently opposed and ask them to oppose retroactive immunity. Everyone is not opposed needs to hear from the public on this issue – even conservative Republicans – because the Constitution and rule of law are not partisan issues, nor should they be.

Second, if you're feeling discouraged by the increased chances of amnesty for telecoms making it out of the Judiciary Committee, remember that Senator Dodd has vowed to stop any such legislation from becoming law, either through a hold or by filibuster if necessary. Dodd will stand up for the rule of law. He will defend the Constitution.

Now is the time to take action, though. Chris Dodd won't wait until 2009 to lead and we shouldn't wait until 2009 to stand up for what we believe in.

Call the Senate Judiciary Committee – we'll do the dialing for you through our Citizen Generated Whip Count calling tool: http://chrisdodd.com/immunity

Dodd's DNA & America's DNA

In Tuesday's FISA live chat at Fire Dog Lake, Senator Dodd talked about how caring about the Constitution is in his DNA:

I feel so strongly about this. It’s part of my DNA, in a sense. Some of you may know, that I grew up in a household where my father was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, here. And, Robert Jackson, the great prosecutor, the great Supreme Court Justice, made the case as others did. That we were going to stand up for the rule of law, even with some of the greatest violators of human rights in recorded history. That we were going to provide a trial for them, that which they never gave to their victims. So I heard all about the rule of law growing up, and how important it is. I didn’t discover this a week ago, or year a go or two years ago. It’s something I believed in very strongly when I served on the House Judiciary Committee…So my history on these matters go back a long way, here. They didn’t come up recently, and I’m urging people to stand up.

If caring about the rule of law is in Senator Dodd's DNA, it's critically important to remember as citizens that the Constitution is our nation's DNA. And this administration's actions against our founding document risks fundamentally altering who we are as a nation.

We have seen strikes made against the Eighth Amendment, which bans cruel and unusual punishment; the Fourth Amendment, which mandates searches be conducted with warrant; and the Fifth Amendment, which demands due process for all persons.

Habeas corpus. Warrantless wiretaps. Torture. Extraordinary rendition. Secret Prisons. The Military Commissions Act.

Now we see the pernicious idea of retroactive immunity or amnesty for telecom companies who helped the Bush administration spy illegally on innocent Americans without warrant. If this dangerous move becomes law, the courts will never be able to discover what the Bush administration asked these companies and on what grounds. We will never learn what was perpetrated against the American people by its own government, in contravention to the laws of our land.

The efforts we have seen to change the DNA of America do not stop with the Bill of Rights, but tragically have extended into dangerous revisionism when it comes to the purview of the legislature and the executive. Article I and Article II of the Constitution.

The system of checks and balances between the three branches of government is being cast out of balance. The Vice President has gone so far as to suggest he's a previously undiscovered fourth branch of government.

Our Constitution — and our nation — may represent a great experiment in the power for representative democracy to make the world a better place. But the erosions and invasions of our Constitution and Bill of Rights — the DNA of our country —  under President Bush threaten to turn America into a modern island of Doctor Moreau. What we get will not be what our Founders intended.

And so while Senator Dodd ties the roots of his passion for the Constitution and rule of law to the household he was raised in and the hard work of his father, we can all find our passion in a need to defend the document that most fundamentally defines who we are as a nation. And with our passion, we can move to act — today — by calling the Senate Judiciary Committee and ask them to oppose retroactive immunity for telecom companies in the latest FISA legislation.


Here's Sen. Dodd's speech from the floor of the Senate today on the Constitution, FISA, and rule of law:

Cross posted at the DoddBlog.

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