House passes revised FISA reform bill minus telco immunity

Despite whatever took place behind closed doors in an unusual secret session of the US House yesterday, in open session today, the House passed its completely new version of the FISA Amendments bill this afternoon, by a vote of 213-197.

Speaking on behalf of the bill just prior to its passage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D - Calif.) took issue with President Bush's comments on the White House South Lawn yesterday, stating the Democrats' new version of the bill would, by eliminating legal protections for telecom companies, endanger the ongoing fight against terrorism.

"The President has said that our legislation will not make America safe," the Speaker said. "The President is wrong and I think he knows it. He knows that our legislation contains within it the principles that were suggested by the Director of National Intelligence, Mr. McConnell, early on, as to what is needed to protect our people in terms of intelligence."

Later, the Speaker suggested that it may have been an indication of the administration's "incompetence" that it is trying now to attach immunity to possible actions by telcos cooperating with government surveillance operations, when if the administration had followed existing statutes at the time those operations commenced, she argued, they may already have been immune from prosecution.

Also speaking out in support of the revised legislation was Rep. Tim Walz (D - Minn.), who said on the House floor this afternoon, "No matter how many attack ads the telecom companies take out against me, I will stand firm against giving a free pass to companies that participated in the President's illegal surveillance program. Today we passed a FISA modernization bill that will give our intelligence agencies the tools they need to protect America while still protecting our civil liberties. I am eager to see a good FISA modernization bill become law."

Leading the opposition to the new bill was House Minority Leader John Boehner (R - Ohio), who issued a statement today alleging the new bill was merely a stopgap measure to stall Congress from having to actually pass legislation the President will sign, until at least sometime well after the upcoming spring break holiday.

"This flawed legislation has no chance of becoming law, and the Majority knows it," stated Rep. Boehner. "Passing this bill simply gives the Majority's leaders another excuse to wait even longer to modernize a FISA law that has not been fundamentally reformed in three decades. Congress is now heading into yet another lengthy recess without sending President Bush the bipartisan Senate-passed FISA bill that overwhelmingly cleared that chamber. That means it will be at least another three weeks before our nation's intelligence officials have all the tools they need to protect the American people and our troops serving overseas. The fact that Congress is going on Spring Break -- at a time when al Qaeda and other terrorist enemies continue plotting against us -- is both irresponsible and dangerous."

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