Senate Democrats

Reid Statement On Surveillance Law Votes

Washington, DC—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following statement today on the floor of the U.S. Senate:

“Just a few hours from now, President Bush will stand in the well of the House of Representatives, just a few hundred yards across the Capitol from here, to deliver his final State of the Union address.  It’s a fair bet that in this speech, he will continue the drumbeat started by Dick Cheney last week by trying to scare the American people into believing that if he does not get his way on the FISA bill now before us, America’s national security will be gravely jeopardized.

“I have said on more than one occasion in recent days that we face a faltering economy at home and a failing foreign policy abroad.  So I call upon all of us to rise above partisanship.  I have said on more than one occasion that we extend our hand to the President and Congressional Republicans and hope they join us in a genuine spirit of bipartisanship.

“But in my 20 years in Congress, I have not seen anything quite as cynical and counterproductive as the Republican approach to FISA.  The American people deserve to know that when President Bush talks about the foreign intelligence bill tonight, he’s doing little more than shooting for cheap political points – and we should reject his efforts.  Members of Congress from both parties have legitimate policy disagreements on FISA.  Some of us believe that history proves the need for more protections against government abuse.  Others support the law the way it stands.

“But all of us – Democrats and Republicans – want to wage an effective fight against terrorism.  All of us – Democrats and Republicans – want to give our intelligence professionals the tools they need to win this fight.  We will be taking two votes: the first is on whether to invoke cloture on the Bond-Rockefeller substitute to the FISA bill that we have on the floor.  The second is a cloture vote on whether to extend the authorities of the Protect America Act for an additional 30 days, while Congress works to pass a new FISA bill.  I will oppose cloture on the substitute, and will support cloture on the extension.

“An extension will give the Senate time to fully debate this complex issue and pass a longer-term law that protects America without compromising the privacy of law-abiding Americans.  Both the Intelligence Committee bill and the Judiciary Committee bill authorize the same surveillance tools our intelligence community needs.  Democrats and Republicans stand together on all of the terrorism-fighting components of these bills.  Some Democrats, including me, support the additional privacy protections in the Judiciary Committee bill.  Others are satisfied with the protections in the Intelligence Committee bill.  But all of us believe that the Senate should have an opportunity to vote on these important questions. 

“As a result, many Democrats, including Chairman Rockefeller, are going to oppose cloture on the substitute because they object to the heavy-handed tactics of the Republicans we saw last week on this legislation.  The Republican leader filed cloture on this bill after it had been on the floor for just a few hours.  He filed cloture after Republicans blocked every amendment they could from being offered and blocked all amendments from getting votes.

“In simple terms, this means the Republicans were filibustering their own bill.  Let me repeat that: The Republicans were filibustering their own bill.  In my time in the Senate, I can’t remember this taking place.

“Meanwhile, at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, President Bush has actually threatened to veto a temporary extension of FISA.  Let’s remember – a temporary extension would guarantee all the terrorism-fighting tools remain in effect.  There is absolutely no policy or security problem with an extension.  All it would do is give us more time to work toward bipartisanship while the law continues uninterrupted.

“There is no reason to vote against an extension – or for the President to veto one- – except for political posturing.  None of us want the current law to expire. But if it does expire because of Republican tactics, surveillance will not end.  All surveillance orders issued under the law we passed last August, the Protect America Act, are effective for one year, so they will continue until at least August of 2008.  Even in a last resort – if the current law expires, our intelligence professionals can get surveillance orders under the FISA law as it existed for several decades before we passed the Protect America Act last August.  FISA includes provisions for emergency warrantless surveillance.

“Again, no one is arguing that the law should be allowed to expire.  Doing so would send the wrong message.  But the safeguards in place ensure that our war on terror will not be adversely affected.  Anyone who says otherwise, from the President on down, is not being truthful.

“Why do Democrats seek an extension? We still believe that bipartisanship is appropriate and possible.  The economic stimulus package shows us that when circumstances are dire, we can work together.  The Republican leadership’s actions in this FISA debate have not given us reason for confidence that they are interested in working with us, but we owe it to the American people to give them every opportunity to work with us.

“Democrats have requested a 30-day extension repeatedly.  Each time, Republicans have said no.  Compromise is a two way street.  Bipartisanship is a two way street.  As I said last week, we are willing to pass an extension of current law for two weeks, 30 days, 18 months – whatever our colleagues want.  But we need to pass an extension now if we are to ensure that the law does not expire.  The House is going out of session shortly.

“Already, Democrats have introduced several amendments to strengthen the bill:

  • Sen. Feingold sought a vote on his amendment to provide FISA court documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Republicans blocked him.
  • Sen. Whitehouse sought to offer an amendment to give the FISA court authority to review compliance with minimization rules, to protect the privacy of Americans whose communications are inadvertently intercepted.  Republicans blocked him.
  • Sen. Cardin sought to offer an amendment to sunset this legislation in four years, rather than six, to make sure the Congress returns to this legislation sooner to evaluate how it is working.  Republicans blocked him. 
  • Sen. Kennedy sought to offer an amendment providing for a report by the Inspectors General of the relevant agencies to review the conduct of these programs in the past.  Republicans blocked him.
  • Sen. Feinstein sought to offer an amendment making crystal clear that FISA is the exclusive means by which the executive branch may conduct surveillance.  Republicans blocked her. 

“Whether these amendments pass or not, we should be allowed to have votes on them.  That is what the U.S. Senate does.  We take up bills reported to us by our committees, senators offer amendments to them, and we let the Senate work its will. 

“The Republicans can’t block us from voting on any amendments and expect us to follow along.  Senators are entitled to a vote on their amendments.  And with Republicans blocking every amendment, we haven’t gotten to the crucial issue of immunity.

“Let’s not forget: the question of retroactive immunity wouldn’t even be before us if President Bush hadn’t ignored Congress and established his own process outside the law. 

“But far from taking responsibility for his actions, the President bullies and threatens the Congress he is supposed to work with.  He is like the kid in the schoolyard taking his ball and going home when he doesn’t get his way.  When the President talks tonight about how important this program is and how it must continue, I say to him that he must reconsider his political posture and ask his colleagues in the Senate to support an extension.  We are the deliberative body.  Let us deliberate.

“I urge my colleagues to oppose cloture on the substitute amendment, so that the Senate can return to considering and improving this bill.  We must pass a bill that gives our intelligence authorities the tools they need, while protecting the privacy of all Americans.  And I urge my colleagues to support the extension, so that we can ensure that current authority does not expire while Congress works to pass a new and stronger FISA bill.”