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The bill passed the House by a wide margin on Friday, (293 to 129). However, the significance of the vote was that 105 Democrats, mainly centrists, broke ranks with liberals and supported the bill.

Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat, was typical of the defectors. She said in a floor statement that she supported the legislation despite her office phones “ringing off the hook” with calls from opponents.

“After reading every word of it, and after many, many hours working to develop and revise portions of it, I conclude that the compromise replaces bad law, the Protect America Act, with law that actually improves many of the provisions of the underlying FISA law which has served our country well for three decades,” Mrs. Harman said.

Other key Democratic centrists who voted for the measure include Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. John Spratt of South Carolina, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where liberal opponents vowed to filibuster it because a similar version of the FISA bill passed the Senate earlier.

Sen. Kit Bond, Missouri Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the House passage of the bill was the result of a bipartisan compromise “that will put the intelligence community back in business, protect American families from attack and protect our civil liberties.”

Mr. Bond also defended the provisions that protect telecommunications companies. “Case law supports the president’s constitutional authority to engage in surveillance of foreign terrorists, and the Democratic-led review of the program found no illegal conduct by telephone companies,” he said. “The right thing to do is to protect the patriotic companies that answered their government’s call [to] duty after September 11 to help keep Americans safe.”

Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, called the compromise a “bad deal.”

“The FISA deal announced on June 19 effectively grants retroactive immunity to companies that allegedly participated in the president’s illegal wiretapping program, and it does not provide adequate protections for innocent Americans,” he said.

Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence J. Michael McConnell stated in a June 19 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the bill provides intelligence eavesdroppers “key authorities” needed in the war on terrorism. They called provisions that provide private telecommunications companies with protection from lawsuits “vital” in efforts to pursue terrorists and foreign spies.

They opposed, however, the sunset provision, which will require the same reauthorization process in 2012, noting that the public debate “risks exposing our intelligence sources and methods to our adversaries.”

Questioning one China

The Bush administration has backed away from China’s position on Taiwan by declaring in a diplomatic note to the United Nations that the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty remains unsettled and effectively stating that the island is not under Chinese sovereignty, as Beijing insists.

A copy of the diplomatic note, from August, was obtained by the Heritage Foundation, and its disclosure is likely to upset China’s government, which regards U.S. support for Taiwan as the most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations.

Administration diplomats and other U.S. officials who engage China are under constant pressure from Beijing to adhere to the so-called “one China policy” that in China’s view implies formal U.S. recognition that democratic Taiwan is in reality under the sovereignty of communist China, like former colonies Hong Kong and Macao.

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