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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Pathetic, Corrupt, Spineless Democratic Leadership

by dday

I congratulate Barack Obama on his primary win and think he has the opportunity to bring forward meaningful change in America. In fact, he can start today. He can go to the well of the Senate and demand that the party he now leads not authorize new powers to spy on Americans and immunize corporations who broke the law with their illegal spying in the first place.

The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat disclosed late Tuesday that he is ready to accept a Republican-brokered deal to rewrite the nation's electronic surveillance laws, signaling that a long-running congressional impasse could soon be coming to an end.

House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes told CongressDaily that he is "fine" with language offered by Senate Intelligence ranking member Christopher (Kit) Bond and other Republicans to overhaul the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Notably, the GOP language, which was offered a day before the recent congressional recess, would leave it up to the secret FISA court to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that have helped the Bush administration conduct electronic surveillance on the communications of U.S. citizens without warrants [...]

"It's about finding middle ground and we have middle ground," Reyes said of the compromise offered by Republicans. "It's not going to please everyone but let's get on with it."

Reyes said he believes enough Democrats will support the proposal to pass it in the House.

Barack Obama could put an end to this today if he wanted. He could tell his colleagues in the House and the Senate that they should not work so hard to codify into law what his opponent is calling for - the ability for an executive to secretly spy on Americans.

If elected president, Senator John McCain would reserve the right to run his own warrantless wiretapping program against Americans, based on the theory that the president's wartime powers trump federal criminal statutes and court oversight, according to a statement released by his campaign Monday.

Monday, McCain adviser Doug Holtz-Eakin, speaking for the campaign, disavowed those statements, and for the first time cast McCain's views on warrantless wiretapping as identical to Bush's.

"[N]either the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001. [...]

We do not know what lies ahead in our nation’s fight against radical Islamic extremists, but John McCain will do everything he can to protect Americans from such threats, including asking the telecoms for appropriate assistance to collect intelligence against foreign threats to the United States as authorized by Article II of the Constitution."

The Article II citation is key, since it refers to President Bush's longstanding arguments that the president has nearly unlimited powers during a time of war. The administration's analysis went so far as to say the Fourth Amendment did not apply inside the United States in the fight against terrorism, in one legal opinion from 2001.

This really is identical to George Bush's position and now the Democrats in the House are signaling their willingness to go along with it. Obama positions himself as a new kind of Democrat who wants to change Washington and has a background as a Constitutional scholar. There is no other issue which both shows the rot of the Democratic leadership and their disinclination to enforce or even recognize the Constitution than this one.

Senator Obama has the power to end this. I'm sorry to not give him a honeymoon after the primary victory but events on the ground are moving quickly. There are a few decent elements in the compromise bill, like exclusivity for the FISA Court and an IG report on the legality of the current surveillance program, but it's not nearly good enough. This is another in a long series of caves, and an excellent opportunity for Obama to show his leadership skills and where he stands on civil liberties and Constitutional issues. We know that McCain is a mirror of Bush on that score.

Senator Obama, you are the party's leader. Do something about this. Today.