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Reid taking heat on immunizing telecoms through FISA

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may be backing off plans to bring a bill to the Senate floor providing immunity for law-breaking telecommunications companies that cooperated in the Bush administration’s illegal electronic surveillance program(s).

Two versions of a bill to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have passed Senate committees. One, the version coming out of the intelligence committee, would insulate the telecom companies from lawsuits arising from their violations of the law; the other, a judiciary committee product, would not. Reid, despite an attempt by fellow Democrat Chris Dodd to block the intelligence committee bill, apparently planned to bring that version up for debate on Monday. Dodd and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold will offer an amendment striking the immunity provision from the bill if the intelligence committee version is indeed the one Reid advances.

Reid, though, may be reconsidering his support for that bill in the face of pressure that is keeping his phones busy and his staff hopping. Three calls to his office this morning produced three different but equally equivocal responses. One aide told me that Reid has not decided which version to push. Another told me that Reid wants a bill that would protect us from terrorists and protect our civil liberties, and when I interrupted to ask again which version he planned to bring up for debate, said that she really didn’t know; “I have these talking points …”. A third aide, in the Senator’s press office, also couldn’t answer but said he would get back to me via email (I’ll update this when/if that happens). Dodd and Feingold staffers say the possibility that Reid hasn’t yet decided to push the telecom immunity version of the bill is news to them, so the lack of clarity in Reid’s office, whether genuine or disingenuous, is likely the result of the negative reactions coming in over the phones.

Dodd has promised to filibuster any version of the bill that includes immunity for the scofflaw firms. A Feingold aide told me that while his boss is supportive of any effort to kill immunity, the senator has not yet taken a position on participating in a filibuster.

All three Senators have phones. Tell Harry Reid to respect Chris Dodd’s hold on the immunity bill, and ask whether or not he intends to bring up the telecom immunity version of the bill. Congratulate Dodd and Feingold and urge them to keep the pressure on. It’ll take five minutes and could do a world of good. Here are the numbers:

Harry Reid
202-224-3542

Russ Feingold
202-224-5323

Chris Dodd
202-224-2823

I’m well aware of the sense of futility attendant upon taking action against the many Democratic enablers of the Bush administration in Congress. It does occasionally work, though, and given the signs that Reid may be wobbling, this one is worth a five-minute investment.

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