FISA Surveillance Bill passes House on narrow vote

posted by Edward Felker, P-B Washington Bureau

The House narrowly passed an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act today without the immunity for telecommunications companies demanded by President Bush and included in a Senate FISA expansion bill passed Feb. 12 on a 68-29 roll call.

The House bill was approved on a largely party-line 213-197 roll call vote. No Republicans voted for the bill, and just 12 Democrats voted against.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Mankato, who was the target of local ads in favor of the Senate bill by the group Defense of Democracies , issued a statement saying he was among lawmakers who "stood firm with a majority of Democratic House members to oppose any retroactive immunity for companies that participated in President Bush's illegal warrant-less surveillance programs.

"No matter how many attack ads the telecom companies take out against me, I will stand firm against giving a free pass to companies that participated in the President's illegal surveillance program. Today we passed a FISA modernization bill that will give our intelligence agencies the tools they need to protect America while still protecting our civil liberties. I am eager to see a good FISA modernization bill become law."


Rep. John Kline, R-Lakeville, who backs the FISA bill passed by the Senate, took to the House floor Thursday to urge its adoption and rejection of the House Democratic bill.

"Madam Speaker, the Protect America Act expired on February 16. It has been almost a full month since the majority allowed this important element of our national security to lapse.  President Lincoln once told this nation, "a house divided against itself cannot stand.''

"Madam Speaker, for this past month, Democratic leadership has needlessly attempted to divide this Congress on a national security matter. A bipartisan majority of this House wants to adopt the Senate version of the bill to restore our intelligence teams' ability to protect us, but we have been denied a chance to even vote on the Senate measure," Kline said. 

"The leadership has kept this House divided, and for what reason? This morning the newspapers are full of reports that we are jeopardizing our national security in order to benefit the trial lawyers, who stand to gain billions of dollars in suits against the telecommunications companies. These are the companies that reportedly responded to pleas from our government for help, and now they are subject to potentially crippling lawsuits.  A house divided against itself cannot stand. The people of this great nation expect bipartisan action, and the time is long overdue to come together."

Kline also spoke for the Senate bill on Feb. 14, as recorded in the Congressional Record.

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