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Top Dems Are Cool To FISA Deal

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said Thursday he could not support a compromise on controversial electronic surveillance legislation, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is also cool to the proposal, making it unclear how much support the legislation will get in the Senate.

While nobody is suggesting the bipartisan breakthrough on an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is in trouble, it’s clear that many liberal Democrats will be disappointed in a measure that provides a modest level of lawsuit immunity to telecommunications firms that helped the Bush administration with warrantless wiretaps. While Republicans and Democrats are hailing the compromise,  privately some GOP staffers are crowing that they won more concessions in the negotiations.

“I have said since the beginning of this debate that I would oppose a bill that did not provide accountability for this administration’s six years of illegal, warrantless wiretapping,” said Leahy. “This bill would dismiss ongoing cases against the telecommunications carriers that participated in that program without allowing a judicial review of the legality of the program. Therefore, it lacks accountability measures that I believe are crucial.”

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said what other liberal Democrats are saying privately: Democrats "capitulated" to the White House.

"The proposed FISA deal is not a compromise; it is a capitulation," Feingold said. "The House and Senate should not be taking up this bill, which effectively guarantees immunity for telecom companies alleged to have participated in the president’s illegal program, and which fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans at home. Allowing courts to review the question of immunity is meaningless when the same legislation essentially requires the court to grant immunity. "

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), risking backlash from the liberals in his caucus, defended the compromise that he negotiated with Republicans.

"This bipartisan bill balances the needs of our intelligence community with Americans’ civil liberties and provides critical new oversight and accountability requirements,” Hoyer said. “It is the result of compromise, and like any compromise is not perfect, but I believe it strikes a sound balance. Furthermore, we have ensured that Congress can revisit these issues because the legislation will sunset at the end of 2012.”

Reid said that the Senate would likely take up both the FISA bill and the war supplemental bill early next week.
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