Sixteen Senate Democrats, and Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent, voted in lockstep with all 43 Senate Republicans late Friday evening in supporting an expanded surveillance bill that is virtually identical to the proposals written by the Bush administration.
Makes you ponder just who won control of Congress in 2006.
The bill, as written, does not contain any safeguards to ensure average Americans are not caught up in the surveillance activities. Additionally, the Senate put oversight of the surveillance process into the hands of the Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, granting the officials extraordinary powers to approve spying activities without any independent oversight or review.
The key points of the legislation allow the Bush administration to bypass the secret court set up nearly thirty years ago to authorize intelligence officials to conduct surveillance activities. The secret court will be permitted to review the approval process - but not until 120 days after the spying has already commenced.
And this piece from the Associated Press:
Senate Passes Bush Terrorism Spy Bill
Saturday 04 August 2007
Washington - The Senate, in a high-stakes showdown
over national security, voted late Friday to
temporarily give President Bush expanded authority to
eavesdrop on suspected foreign terrorists without
The House, meanwhile, rejected a Democratic
version of the bill.
Democratic leaders there were working on a plan to
bring up the Senate-passed measure and vote on it
Saturday in response to Bush's demand that Congress
give him expanded powers before leaving for vacation
The White House applauded the Senate vote and
urged the House to quickly follow suit.
The bill "will give our intelligence professionals
the essential tools they need to protect our nation,"
said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "It is urgent
that this legislation become law as quickly as
Senate Democrats reluctantly voted for a plan
largely crafted by the White House after Bush promised
to veto a stricter proposal that would have required a
court review to begin within 10 days.
The Senate bill gives Bush the expanded
eavesdropping authority for six months. The temporary
powers give Congress time to hammer out a more
comprehensive plan instead of rushing approval for a
permanent bill in the waning hours before lawmakers
begin their month-long break.
The Senate vote was 60-28. Both parties had agreed
to require 60 votes for passage.
Senate Republicans, aided by Director of National
Intelligence Mike McConnell, said the update to the
1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA,
would at least temporarily close gaps in the nation's
"Al-Qaida is not going on vacation this month,"
said Sen. Republican leader Mitch McConnell of
Kentucky. "And we can't either until we know we've
done our duty to the American people."
In the House, Democrats lost an effort to push a
proposal that called for stricter court oversight of
the way the government would ensure its spying would
not target Americans.
"The rule of law is still critical in this
country," Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., said before the
losing the mostly party-line 218-207 vote that fell
short of two-thirds majority needed for passage. "It
is exactly when the government thinks that it can be
the sole, fair arbiter that we most need a judicial
system to stand in and strike the balance."
"We can have security and our civil liberties,"
Current law requires court review of government
surveillance of suspected terrorists in the United
States. It does not specifically address the
government's ability to intercept messages believed to
come from foreigners overseas.
The Bush administration began pressing for changes
to the law after a recent ruling by the special FISA
court that barred the government from eavesdropping on
foreign suspects whose messages were being routed
through U.S. communications carriers, including
Democrats agreed the law should not restrict U.S.
spies from tapping in on foreign suspects. However,
they initially demanded the FISA court to review the
eavesdropping process before it begins to make sure
that Americans aren't targeted.
By the final vote, Senate Democrats had whittled
down that demand and approved a bill that largely
mirrored what the Bush administration wanted. It
Initial approval by Director of National Intelligence
Mike McConnell and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The administration relented to Democrats leery of
Gonzales by adding McConnell to the oversight.
FISA Court review within 120 days. The final
Democratic plan had called for court review to begin
immediately and conclude within a month of the
The law to expire in six months to give Congress time
to craft a more comprehensive plan. The White House
initially wanted the bill to be permanent.
Before the vote, Democrats excoriated the GOP
plan, which Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said
"provides a weak and practically nonexistent court
Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., angrily chastised his
colleagues for bending to the administration's will.
"The day we start deferring to someone who's not a
member of this body ... is a sad day for the U.S.
Senate," Feingold said. "We make the policy - not the
Likewise, civil liberties advocates said they were
outraged that Democratic-led Senate would side with
the White House.
"We're hugely disappointed with the Democrats,"
said Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director for
the American Civil Liberties Union. "The idea they let
themselves be manipulated into accepting the White
House proposal, certainly taking a great deal of it,
when they're in control - it's mind-boggling."
It was not immediately clear whether House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi would endorse the Senate bill after days
of rejecting White House offers.
"I hope that there are no attacks before we are
able to effectively update this important act," said
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, top Republican on the House
Bush has said he would reject any bill that his
intelligence director deemed unable "to prevent an
attack on the country."
"We've worked hard and in good faith with the
Democrats to find a solution, but we are not going to
put our national security at risk," Bush said after
meeting with counterterror and homeland security
officials at FBI headquarters Friday morning. "Time is
Presidents have authority to call Congress back in
session from a recess, but the last time it was used
was in 1948, by Harry Truman.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the
administration plan "more likely to protect the
American people against terrorist attacks by those who
want to do us harm."