by Jordan Zakarin
In a major victory for House Democrats on Thursday, the White House and party leaders came to an accord that would, for the first time, require the President to act as if he was considering the opinion of the majority party before blatantly disregarding it and continuing on his desired plan of action.
The agreement, which came as part of the House’s bill to extend and legitimize the FISA wiretapping program, was a significant win for the Democratic leaders, who passed the bill by a wide majority early Friday afternoon.
“Frankly, it took every last bit of leverage and courage that we had,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. “This was a hard fought victory for us, and really only came as a result of some extraordinary circumstances coming together at the right time.”
The compromise now provides that the only avenue for wiretapping is a warrant supplied by a FISA court, which can be done retroactively and issued in blanket for large numbers of phone taps. That law, Democrats and the White House officials agreed, would be easily overruled by advise from Bush’s personal legal team, who will assert “inherent power” whenever they deem necessary.
Perhaps more significantly, through intense pressure, Bush agreed to have a judge decide whether or not the upwards of 40 lawsuits against telecom companies involved in the illegal wiretaps should be immunized from any responsibility. The embattled telecom companies must provide a note from the Bush administration telling them that it was legal to cooperate with the wiretaps, placing the probability that they will be freed from judicial action somewhere between 100% and definite.
Hoyer, celebrating the victory with cigars branded with the Verizon logo and talking on his brand new, complimentary iPhone, pointed to an October poll that found that nearly two thirds of respondents were opposed to warrantless wiretapping of Americans, saying that they strongly believed that the government should be required to get a warrant for each wiretap. The poll, Hoyer said, also showed that a majority of Americans were opposed to giving amnesty from lawsuits to telecom companies that illegally spied on Americans at the behest of the Bush administration.
“Given that overwhelming public sentiment, the fact that the President is down to a 25% approval rating, and our 30+ seat majority, we were really able to put the pressure on. Score one for the Dems,” Hoyer said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was a bit less emphatic, saying that although the bill was not perfect, it was certainly a step in the right direction for her caucus. “Sure, we’d like to have maybe gotten [the President] to say, ‘I see your point and understand your concerns, but I respectfully disagree,’ before he blatantly disregarded us, but as a whole, this is definitely a good stepping stone measure for us.”
Huzzahs broke out across the Democratic Congress, who spoke out jubilantly on the House floor before Minority Leader John Boehner cracked the gavel and ordered that the majority return to their seats.
“We really got them this time,” New York Democrat Charlie Rengel said. “I’m really going to boogie down for the next sixteen seconds, my allotted time on the floor before Boehner moves on to the next issue on the day’s agenda.
“I think this will really help us combat the Republicans and maybe chisel away at their massive party identification disadvantage come November,” said Oklahoma Dan Boren, a member of the Blue Dog caucus.