An astonishing thing happened yesterday, one of the houses of Congress actually stood on principle and refused to cave to the demands of the President to give telecom companies immunity or face imminent annihilation. The question is whether this is a true commitment or just political theater.
At issue is the telecom immunity provision, which would wipe out dozens of pending public interest lawsuits against companies who helped the President violate federal law in the surveillance of their customers. Administration officials have long argued that the program was clearly lawful but have been silently working to avoid any final judgment of the courts, which are expected to rule to the contrary.
In an extraordinary victory of special interests over the public interest, Republican and Democratic senators voted to give the companies immunity — rejecting a variety of amendment such as the substitution of the government for the companies are liable for any damages. The amendments clearly showed that this was not about national security or even litigation costs for these companies — it is about preventing courts from finding the obvious and declaring the surveillance program (which members of both parties knew about) to be manifestly unlawful.
The President and the GOP refused to extend the law and refused to accept expanded powers without the immunity provision for telecom companies. The question now is whether the House dems will show the principle so lacking in the Senate — which quietly worked to guarantee passage by removing procedural barriers that might have blocked the law. Click here
The President clearly overplayed his hand on this one with a fear-mongering speech over terrorist destruction — in an effort to secure financial benefit for major corporations. There is not a scintilla of public interest in such an act and if the House cannot remain firm on this position, all is truly lost. The greatest danger would be a secret deal to pass a different house measure that would then go to closed conference with the Senate — where people like Jay Rockefeller would put the immunity back in and both houses approve the result under objections.
For the full story on surveillance, click here