Blunt Will Try To Force Closed Session On FISA

House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) will move to force a rare closed session Thursday afternoon to debate a lapsed upgrade of electronic surveillance laws, according to a GOP aide.

Blunt makes his call as House Democrats prepared to bring legislation to the floor that would extend many of the changes Congress made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last summer, but stripping out the most controversial measure - a provision granting immunity to the telecom companies that shared information with the U.S. government in the aftermath of Sept. 11 - so members could vote on both items separately.

Republicans, who are trying to protect these companies from a litany of civil lawsuits, have objected to the maneuver, arguing the House should adopt a Senate bill that passed with sizeable Democratic support that includes blanket immunity for these telecom firms.

In order to go into a closed session, the House would need to approve Blunt's proposal, making it much harder for a member of the minority to force the private session. The whip office sent an advisory to other Republican offices Thursday morning to alert them that Blunt expects to call for the session immediately following a vote on the budget later this afternoon.

Closed sessions of the House are exceedingly rare. The last occurred in 1983, when the chamber shut its doors to debate U.S. involvement in Nicaragua. Democrats tried unsuccessfully to force a close session in 2006 to discuss a classified intelligence estimate that argued the war in Iraq was nuturing the next generation of Islamic extremists.