WASHINGTON (AP) - House Democratic leaders agreed Thursday to a rare closed-door session - the first in 25 years - to debate surveillance legislation. Republicans requested privacy for what they termed "an honest debate" on the new Democratic eavesdropping bill that is opposed by the White House and most Republicans in Congress.
The closed-door debate was scheduled for late Thursday, after the House chamber could be cleared and swept by security personnel to make sure there are no listening devices.
The last private session in the House was in 1983 on U.S. support for paramilitary operations in Nicaragua. Only five closed sessions have taken place in the House since 1825.
President Bush vowed to veto the House Democrats' version of the terrorist surveillance bill, saying it would undermine the nation's security.
Bush opposes it in part because it doesn't provide full, retroactive legal protection to telecommunications companies that helped the government eavesdrop on their customers without court permission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
About 40 lawsuits have been filed against telecommunications companies by people and organizations alleging they violated wiretapping and privacy laws. The lawsuits have been combined and are pending before a single federal judge in California.
UPDATE I - PALE RIDER
Explanations--we go to the brilliant Kagro X at DKos:
FISA fight: Leadership maneuvers you'll actually like
by Kagro X
Thu Mar 13, 2008 at 03:26:39 PM PDT
FISA fight got you down? Fed up with the Congressional Democratic leadership? Tired of watching Dems cave, and Republicans use the rules to run roughshod over them?
Perhaps you've heard about how House Republicans have used the motion to recommit to trip up various versions of the FISA bill that don't give retroactive amnesty to the telecom companies. And perhaps you're concerned that despite the much-improved FISA language coming to a vote in the House this week, it'll be undercut by another such motion.
Well, dig this:
The RESTORE Act, H.R. 3773, passed the House last year without including retroactive amnesty for the telecom companies and sent it on to the Senate.
When the Senate took up the issue, it opted not to deal with H.R. 3773, but instead passed its Rockefeller-backed FISA bill (S. 2248) that did include retroactive amnesty. And there was a tremendous uproar among immunity opponents over the procedure the Senate used, making the Bush-backed Rockefeller legislation the base bill, and the immunity-free Judiciary committee bill the substitute, creating an uphill battle for the fight against immunity. That situation created a lot of ill will toward Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Everyone remembers that.
But here's the interesting part. Rather than send S. 2248 to the House once it passed, Reid sent the bill on a little detour. With the unanimous consent of the Senate, he stripped out the language of H.R. 3773 and substituted in the language of S. 2248, vitiated the passage of S. 2248, and sent the amended H.R. 3773 back to the House.
That put the House in the position of considering the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773, as opposed to the original version of S. 2248. What difference does that make? Well, it makes no substantive difference, in that H.R. 3773 as amended now included retroactive immunity, along with all the other garbage we didn't want the Senate to pass.
But as I've stressed a number of times, control of procedure can, in the end, control the substantive outcome.
So, what's a House that's opposed to retroactive immunity to do? Amend H.R. 3773 to take it back out, of course. And that -- along with a number of other substantive improvements -- is what Chairmen Conyers and Reyes plan to do, in the form of an amendment to the Senate amendment to H.R. 3773.
Sounds like a joke, doesn't it? The sort of thing people say when they make fun of the legislative process: the House amendment to the Senate amendment to the bill H.R. 3773.
Only guess what's special about offering an amendment to the amendment that isn't true of just starting over with a new House bill that doesn't have immunity in it?
You can't move to recommit an amendment to an amendment.
So the House gets to strip immunity (and the other junk) back out of H.R. 3773, and the Republicans can't just undo that work with a motion designed to peel off Blue Dogs. If the amendment to the Senate amendment passes, it pops right back out of the House and goes back to the Senate on the express bus, no stops.
And there's more. It arrives back in the Senate in privileged form, as a message from the House (the message being: we amended your crap) the consideration of which is not subject to filibuster. To be sure, the Republicans (or anyone willing to stand in their shoes) can filibuster the actual debate on the House amendment to Senate amendment, but they can't filibuster the question of whether or not to even have that debate, as they can with most other legislation.
UPDATE II - PALE RIDER - 1152PM Eastern
Senate still in session, DiFi and Boxer are speaking out against an amendment condemning Berkley, CA. Conrad cuts through the crap and calls for yeas and nays...
This is the bullshit that goes on. They are trying to get through budgetary matters in the Senate, no word from the House. I suspect Boehner is crying, though, and maybe Blunt is holding up a picture of a terrorist holding a gun to a puppy's head.
Senator Allard is trying to define a child from conception and play some sort of game with SCHIP--it's unborn child/pro life stuff and it's designed to hold up legislation. Once in a while, you see this, and it's making sausage in public, is all it is.
I'm going to bed--we'll talk in the AM.
Updates as warranted--if this post disappears, it means there's no news made tonight.