Senator Chris Dodd won a temporary victory today after his threats of a filibuster forced Democratic leadership to push back consideration of a measure that would grant immunity to telecom companies that were complicit in warrantless surveillance.I can't literally throw confetti down on Dodd and his colleagues, but I can and have e-mailed them and thanked them for their service to the country.
The measure was part of a greater bill to reorganize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Earlier on Monday, the Senate, agreed to address a bill that would have overhauled FISA, authorized the monitoring of people outside the United States, given secret courts the power to approve aspects of surveillance, and granted telecom companies retroactive immunity for past cooperation.
But the threat of Dodd's filibuster, aimed primarily at the latter measure, persuaded Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, to table the act until January.
***Dodd flew back from Iowa last night to personally rally against the amendment to the Protect America Act. After the Senate agreed, by a vote of 79 to 10, to move to debate, Dodd took to the floor. Over the course of the day, the Connecticut Democrat criticized the idea of granting immunity. Expanding on similar remarks made by Sen. Russ Feingold, D-WI, he noted that that the original FISA bill already included an immunity clause and that the courts, not Congress, should decide whether telecom companies deserve legal protections.
While he never technically conducted a filibuster, according to aides, Dodd left the floor only once, to address a press gathering. He did, on occasion cede time to his Democratic colleagues. But even then, they say, he remained engaged in the debate.
"Everyone who spoke on the floor said they were grateful for Dodd taking a stand," said a staffer to the Senator who asked not to be named. "They said if it weren't for him they wouldn't be having this much-needed debate."
Dodd was the one Senator currently running for the White House who left the campaign trail to debate the Protect America Act, an absence he hinted at while on the Senate floor.
Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joseph Biden did offer their rhetorical support for the filibuster. Dodd, according to aides, will rejoin the three on the campaign trail tomorrow.
And I wonder about Clinton, Obama, and Biden who were too busy campaigning to return to Washington and fight for the Constitution.
One of the things that no one is asking so far in the debates or in interviews, is how the candidates feel about restoring constitutional guarantees and what they would do about it if elected. Kucinich has spoken to it, and we know that if by some miracle he should win he would stand firm for this issue. Edwards and Richardson are not senators and so could not do anything today. But Obama, Clinton, and Biden are all in the Senate. All three of them could have gone to support Dodd, all three of them should have gone to support Dodd. But, only Dodd cared enough to leave the campaign trail for a day and do what he believes is right. Only Dodd, of the four senators running for the Democratic nomination, has shown us that he will stand up and be counted for the Constitution that they all have sworn to uphold.
So, set off the fireworks. Throw the confetti. Release the balloons. There are some heroes out there. And today ten of them stood up and were counted.
The ten Democratic, of course, senators who stood and were counted today:
Barbara Boxer of California, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Maria Cantwell of Washington State, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Tom Harkin of Iowa, John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. We may not have won this one, that remains to be seen. But, these ten Senators gave us reason to celebrate the human spirit. Thank you.
And, it looks like Senator Reid is going to keep the Senate partially in session over much of the Christmas recess to prevent recess appointments. Maybe the Democrats will notice those of their number who do have guts and realize that a spine is a wonderful thing.
Fireworks by Grucci.com
Confetti by ImageEngineering.com
Balloons by Instalight.com
Do click on any of the photos to enlarge.