In the preliminaries to the passage of the FISA Amendments Act (H.R. 6304), Barack Obama made better promises than Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama made better-sounding commitments to the Constitution of the United States and to the rule of law.
In the actual vote on the passage of the FISA Amendments Act, Hillary Clinton got it right, and Barack Obama got it wrong. Barack Obama voted for a bill that gives a presidential administration a 67 day period in which it can spy on anyone’s communications and search anyone’s home, car or office without any warrant or approval of any office or person outside the administration itself. Period. After that 67 day period, the presidential administration can keep whatever information it wants. Period. Barack Obama voted for arbitrary, kingly tyranny. Obama voted against the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He voted against American liberty.
Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, stood up to the nonsense and rightly voted a big, fat NO. Senator Clinton’s statement of July 9, 2008:
One of the great challenges before us as a nation is remaining steadfast in our fight against terrorism while preserving our commitment to the rule of law and individual liberty. As a senator from New York on September 11, I understand the importance of taking any and all necessary steps to protect our nation from those who would do us harm. I believe strongly that we must modernize our surveillance laws in order to provide intelligence professionals the tools needed to fight terrorism and make our country more secure. However, any surveillance program must contain safeguards to protect the rights of Americans against abuse, and to preserve clear lines of oversight and accountability over this administration. I applaud the efforts of my colleagues who negotiated this legislation, and I respect my colleagues who reached a different conclusion on today’s vote. I do so because this is a difficult issue. Nonetheless, I could not vote for the legislation in its current form.
The legislation would overhaul the law that governs the administration’s surveillance activities. Some of the legislation’s provisions place guidelines and restrictions on the operational details of the surveillance activities, others increase judicial and legislative oversight of those activities, and still others relate to immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in the administration’s surveillance activities.
While this legislation does strengthen oversight of the administration’s surveillance activities over previous drafts, in many respects, the oversight in the bill continues to come up short. For instance, while the bill nominally calls for increased oversight by the FISA Court, its ability to serve as a meaningful check on the President’s power is debatable. The clearest example of this is the limited power given to the FISA Court to review the government’s targeting and minimization procedures.
But the legislation has other significant shortcomings. The legislation makes no meaningful change to the immunity provisions. There is little disagreement that the legislation effectively grants retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies. In my judgment, immunity under these circumstances has the practical effect of shutting down a critical avenue for holding the administration accountable for its conduct. It is precisely why I have supported efforts in the Senate to strip the bill of these provisions, both today and during previous debates on this subject. Unfortunately, these efforts have been unsuccessful.
What is more, even as we considered this legislation, the administration refused to allow the overwhelming majority of Senators to examine the warrantless wiretapping program. This made it exceedingly difficult for those Senators who are not on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees to assess the need for the operational details of the legislation, and whether greater protections are necessary. The same can be said for an assessment of the telecom immunity provisions. On an issue of such tremendous importance to our citizens – and in particular to New Yorkers – all Senators should have been entitled to receive briefings that would have enabled them to make an informed decision about the merits of this legislation. I cannot support this legislation when we know neither the nature of the surveillance activities authorized nor the role played by telecommunications companies granted immunity.
Congress must vigorously check and balance the president even in the face of dangerous enemies and at a time of war. That is what sets us apart. And that is what is vital to ensuring that any tool designed to protect us is used – and used within the law – for that purpose and that purpose alone. I believe my responsibility requires that I vote against this compromise, and I will continue to pursue reforms that will improve our ability to collect intelligence in our efforts to combat terror and to oversee that authority in Congress.
These are the words that Barack Obama should have written. These are the words a responsible president would write. These are the words that Hillary Clinton wrote.