Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Senate’s passage this week of legislation renewing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) while granting retroactive immunity to telecommunications firms is a victory for common sense. It ensures that U.S. intelligence agencies are not deprived of the invaluable assistance of telecommunications companies in monitoring foreign terrorists.

The bill, which passed the Senate by an overwhelming 68 to 29 vote, provides retroactive liability protection for telecommunications companies who assisted the federal government’s terrorist surveillance efforts after Sept. 11. And it ensures that the United States will continue to be able to monitor newly discovered foreign terrorist cells without first obtaining judicial approval. The lion’s share of the credit belongs to National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and lawmakers like Sen. Kit Bond, Missouri Republican, and ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The two fought tirelessly to ensure that U.S. intelligence agencies would be able to prevent future attacks on the United States.

The FISA debate has provided a piece of political good news for congressional Republicans: In the House, Republican lawmakers voted 188-1 in favor of the FISA overhaul bill, last month; in the Senate, Republicans voted 47-0 in favor. The Democrats, by contrast, have been deeply divided on the issue, voting 128-105 in the House against reforming FISA and 27-22 against in the Senate. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton voted against reform, while Sen. Barack Obama voted in favor. The vote for FISA reform puts Mr. Obama on the same side of the issue as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, all of whom voted with the Republicans and in opposition to the majority of House and Senate Democrats.

Because he sided with Republicans on FISA (and has moved away from uber-left orthodoxy on issues such as Iraq), Mr. Obama is being pounded by the left’s ideological enforcers — in particular, he is being assaulted by “progressive” bloggers like the DailyKos, whose chieftain Markos Moulitsas believes Democrats like Mr. Obama need to know their political place. “There is a line between ‘moving toward the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized,” Mr. Moulitsas said. “And of late, he [Mr. Obama] has been doing a lot of stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician.” A new online group titled “Senator Obama — Please Vote No On Telecom Immunity — Get FISA Right” formed on the campaign’s social networking Web site and became the largest group on

Even as he betrayed them on final passage of FISA, Mr. Obama attempted to mollify his hard-left allies by supporting a failed effort to strip retroactive immunity from the FISA bill. (It lost by a 66-32 vote.) But Mr. Obama’s effort at partial pandering isn’t making these people happy - at least in the short run: On Wednesday, for example, the Huffington Post published an op-ed urging people to donate to the re-election campaign of Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who led the fight against the FISA bill, instead of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign.

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