Question and answer time: the Senate FISA vote.
I spied something convex?
By Moe Lane Posted in Barack Obama | Congress | FISA | Obamafiles — Comments (21) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Q. OK, what's going on?
A. Assuming that Jesse Helms' funeral doesn't interfere, FISA passes the Senate today with telecom immunity intact. [UPDATE: The final votes will take place tomorrow, in order to allow Senators to attend Helms' funeral.]
Q. Just like that?
A. Just like that.
Q. Aren't there people in the Senate trying to stop it?
A. Not really, no. There are people in the Senate trying their best to look like they're stopping it, but this was all hashed out last week. What happens tomorrow will be about as spontaneous as Kabuki theater. Or any kind of traditional theater, really.
Q. Can we...
A. Review? Of course. It all started a few weeks ago, when House Democrats finally "caved" on telecom immunity...
A. Yup. They set it up to look otherwise, but the Progressive Caucus (not to mention the Black Caucus) pretty much got run over as soon as the primary season was done. A courtesy to Senators Clinton and Obama, you see: moving away from the Hard Left on FISA was simply going to be too hard until one or the other of them stumbled across the finish line.
Q. So now that it's over, Obama thinks that it's safe to support the bill?
A. Pretty much. He's pretending to be concerned about telecom immunity - just like Senators Dodd and Feingold are...
Q. Hold on. I thought that the two of them really are. Didn't Dodd write something about how much he hated this?
A. Yup. Right here: I'd be a heck of a lot more impressed if I thought that he believed a word of it. What Dodd - and Feingold, for that matter - aren't reminding their people is that there are a whole list of things that Senators can do to make sure that a bill never sees the light of day, starting with the hold.
Q. Pardon the pun, but hold on. Wasn't this bill clotured already?
A. Yes, but Feingold or Dodd could have walked up to Mitch McConnell (no reason to bug Harry Reid about this; Mitch will tell the Senate Majority Leader what the Senate Majority Leader needs to know) and bluntly informed him that if FISA passed with telecom immunity in place every piece of legislation in the Senate would be routinely subject to a hold, thus forcing cloture votes on everything. Feingold or Dodd could still do it: it'd work, for a while - but it'd also make them the most hated people in the Senate, which is apparently more of a consideration than stopping the passage of FISA. To put it in starker terms: FISA's worth demagoguing, but not at the price of Senate comity.
Anyway, Dodd's much happier talking about FISA than he is about, say, whether he took a not-so-hidden kickback from the mortgage industry. A question of some interest to the Connecticut voting public, apparently.
Q. What does that have to do with anything?
A. Nothing, but I wouldn't want Dodd to think that we've forgotten about him and his home mortgages.
Q. Moving along: what's the procedure for today?
A. As I understand it, we have three amendments to chew through (see here for the basic data):
1). Amendment #1 is Dodd/Feingold's attempt to strip out the telecom immunity language. They get two hours to debate that before it goes down in flames - while this one only needs a majority vote to pass, expect a GOP party line vote on this, plus Rockefeller, plus Lieberman, plus whoever else is running for re-election in a Red State this year, plus everybody else not actually crazy.
2). Amendment #2 comes from Arlen Specter, and purports to give the courts the ability to strip immunity in cases where the judge decided that the underlying survellance was unconstitutional. That gets another two hours of debate before it gets shot down; it needs 60 votes to pass, and it'll get the usual 55. Specter's only putting it in there to help out Senators who need a "no" vote on something involving FISA for their re-election campaigns.
3). Amendment #3 is from Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico (D), and tries to push the whole thing off until after yet another report. Naturally, this is a popular notion among the anti-FISA people, given that at this point all they can really hope for is more delays, but it also needs 60 votes to pass, and they're only giving this one an hour for "debate."
In other words, we're going to spend the entire day watching roughly 30 Senators delay the inevitable, right there for the cameras. Hey, I just thank God we've apparently got no greater problems to worry about than this.
Q. So it's inevitable?
A. So it's inevitable. Bush will veto any bill that strips away telecom immunity - a veto that will be sustained - and nobody wants to start this all over again.
Q. And how will Senator Obama vote on this?
A. He'll undoubtedly vote No on all the amendments... then "reluctantly" vote Yes on the main bill. Contra his rather self-serving statement, this was an easy call for him to make: the people most upset about this are precisely the people who have nowhere else to go, he knows it, they know it, we know it. They'll whine a bit and then fall into line, just like they always do: and thanks to the amendment votes they'll have a tiny crumb of pander to gnaw on. Hopefully, they'll take it out on all those Red State Democrats who'll be voting for FISA today: one of the really hysterical things that came out of the House passage was the way that the netroots enthusiastically contributed to an organized attack on the Blue Dogs. Every little bit helps.
Q. So this is how the vote ends? Everybody mugs for the cameras, then goes off and does what they were going to, anyway?
A. Maybe. One variable.
A. There's one Senator who must be in the grips of a powerful temptation right now: with one vote she can embarrass the heck out of Senator Obama, grit the collective teeth of all the netrooters who had previously decided that they instead wanted someone who clearly thought as they did on the issues, and bring little smiles of schadenfreude to the VRWC that quietly stayed our collective hand against her during the Best Democratic Primary EVER.
It'll be fun to see whether she succumbs.