Questioning the Politics of the FISA Deal

Many people have been critical of how the Democratic leadership handled the recent FISA deal.  Blogger Glenn Greenwald notes some of the reactions. There have even been quotes that the administration got “a better deal than they hoped to get.”  I commented on the radio (KPFA, 19 minutes in) that this was not a “compromise” but a give-away.

Given all of that, it was interesting to find this piece in the Politico — How Hoyer got the deal done:

In a tense moment during negotiations over the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act, Sen. Kit Bond — the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee — said that his side of the aisle could never accept one of the proposals the Democrats were pushing.

According to Democratic insiders, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer abruptly stopped the meeting and said that, if a deal was made, no one would get more grief than he would.


According to several Democratic insiders, Hoyer was able to keep the talks going by pointing out that he, more than anyone else in the room, was taking a huge political risk by trying to reach a deal.

Hoyer is the majority leader — is there a chance he’ll lose that position? He also seems safely in his seat — he soundly defeated his last primary challenger.

James Patrick Cusick, Sr. Steny H. Hoyer(Won)
19,067 (17.4%) 90,513 (82.6%)

Hoyer also soundly won the general election — the Republicans did not enter a candidate and Hoyer defeated the Green Party candidate getting 84% of the vote.

So my question is: What is the “huge political risk” Hoyer was facing?  It actually looks like he had a lot of leeway here. He had a strong position to negotiate from, and true he gave that up, but I don’t think he’s in a position to pay a price for it.

Finally, I do not get this reaction from Politico:

Hoyer knew it was coming, and he persevered anyway. That he did so speaks volumes about who he is: a master of cloakroom politics who can use his friendships across the aisle to strike deals, even if others demand that his party hew closer to the positions that put it in power in 2006.

It does not take “master[y] of cloakroom politics” to be in a safe position and then give in to the other side. I have never engaged in “cloakroom” anything, but sounds like a rookie mistake, rather than “mastery.” Politico goes on:

Hoyer said that if House Democratic leaders failed to reach a FISA deal with the White House and GOP leaders, as many as “30 Blue Dogs and another 20 to 30 members” could have signed onto a Republican discharge petition calling for a floor vote on the Senate version of the FISA bill, which was even more anathema to House Democrats than what eventually passed.

It would take a “master of cloakroom politics” to have kept that from happening. But that is not what Hoyer did.

Posted: June 24, 2008 in:

Right Wing Errors on FISA

There seems to be a recurring error in a few right-wing websites’ coverage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) debates. What had been debated was the extension of the Protect America Act, which expanded the President’s warrantless surveillance powers by removing some communications from FISA court review. The PAA was passed last summer in a hurried session, and was set to expire early this year.

But the way the debate has been pushed by some people, you’d think that it was the FISA law itself — passed in 1978 — and the surveillance structure it created, that was coming to an end. They’re wrong.

For example, Amanda Carpenter at Townhall writes:

Instead of working to reauthorize FISA legislation, the Democratic House of Representatives is using precious floor time to debate charges of contempt against former White House aide Josh Bolton and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

The FISA bill, which regulates how the government monitors terrorist communications, expires Saturday. Hugh talked about how important this law is here.

Not true. FISA lives on. On Monday, surveillance can still happen under not only last summer’s regime, but also any surveillance going on under the PAA is permitted to continue.

But It’s not just a young townhall blogger that gets it wrong. The National Review also writes:

Here is the bottom line: The legal authority for the United States intelligence community to collect foreign intelligence — information that protects Americans from terrorist attacks and that our soldiers in harm’s way rely on to do their duty — will expire at midnight on Friday. And Democrats are perfectly willing to allow that to happen.

Again, wrong. The entire intelligence collection regime as it existed last summer — plus some more programs authorized under the PAA — will still continue. They’re also wrong on the politics here: the republicans have also been rejecting PAA extensions, and the president has said he’ll reject any bill which does not include immunity for those who broke the law while participating in warrantless surveillance. So there are a lot of people who are “perfectly willing to allow [PAA expiration] to happen.”

Although, to be fair, maybe left wing blogs are making the same mistake.

Posted: February 14, 2008 in: