Back in July and August 2007, when the House and Senate intelligence committees were negotiating fervently with DNI Mike McConnell to write legislation for FISA update, the Bush Administration was engaged in parallel, back-channel lobbying and negotiations with the Blue Dog Democrats. And because owning the Blue Dogs ensured that the Administration could get any Bill it wanted, all of the assurances, promises and deal-making between the Administration and "Official" Senate Leadership was a meaningless pony show.
On August 5, 2007, the Bush Administration-Blue Dog Protect America Act (PAA) became law.
Linked below is the letter Jane Harman and Bud Cramer sent on behalf of the Blue Dogs to DNI Michael McConnell thanking him for meeting with them on August 31, 2007 to discuss the FISA revision.
In the letter, the Blue Dogs voice their commitment to passing FISA Reform emergently before the recess, and list the goals they support for the legislation. Interestingly, the Blue Dogs supported a 180 day sunset provision, which became one of the only concessions in PAA the Bush Administration yielded to ensure passage. Although as a group the Blue Dogs did not acknowledge their role in supporting PAA, 31 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted for PAA, which passed the House at 10:20p.m. on August 4, 2007 and was signed into law the next day.
Foreshadowing the current debate raging over permanent FISA legislation, the Blue Dog letter announces support for addressing amnesty for TelCos for past illegality in warrantless surveillance:
"We also agree that it is important to address the issue of retroactive liability for our private sector partners."
Thanks to the EFF FOIA request, we now know the strategy employed by the Bush Administration to ramrod PAA through congress back in August 2007:
- Pretend to negotiate with Democratic leadership.
- Directly and secretly lobby and negotiate with Blue Dogs.
- Make deals with Blue Dogs to get what you want, completely cutting out Democratic leadership and undermining traditional avenues of Bill-making in Congress.
There is no Democratic Majority
As long as there are Democrats like the Blue Dogs who are willing to ignore the will of the American voters, disrespect party loyalty and leadership, and kowtow to the Bush Administration, there is no effective Democratic Majority in Congress. PAA was a vivid illustration of this fact, and the ongoing FISA and TelCo Amnesty debates continue to underscore the point.
Although Blue Dog Jane Harman voted against PAA, The Washington Post revealed her ongoing back-channel negotiations with Republicans to compromise on FISA:
And as Democratic leaders push their own legislation to rein in the wiretapping program, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) has been quietly exploring avenues of compromise with Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee. Centrist Democrats hope those talks can dovetail with the Senate intelligence committee's own bipartisan measure on surveillance of suspected terrorists.
In an interview given on the eve of his departure in August 2007, Karl Rove predicted that the debate over warrantless wiretapping would fracture the Democratic Party and render it ineffective in 2008 elections. As long as there are Democrats eager to abandon principles of Civil Liberties and embrace Republican positions, Karl Rove is right.
Republican Strategy will continue to exploit Democratic weakness. In this case the weakness sowing Democratic disunity appears to be an inability of some to say no to the Administration's assault on Civil Liberties and the Constitution.
Despite all of the hearings on FISA reform, despite the wheeling and dealing with Feingold and Whitehouse and Leahy and others interested in ensuring Civil Liberty protections in a new FISA bill, we will approach the February 2008 PAA expiration without a suitable bill. During this entire time, however, the Bush Administration will be quietly lobbying and negotiating with Harman and Blue Dogs and other Legislators susceptible to manipulation, in late January, we will be presented with "an emergency".
With Blue Dog support, the existing PAA or a similar bill lacking Civil Liberty protections will be reauthorized, probably (as a concession to get the Blue Dogs on board) with another 6 month sunset provision.
This ensures that this issue will thrive until August-September 2008, just in time for this "critical terrorism-related legislation" to become a campaign issue for the election.
Republicans believe "terrorism" is their trump card to wedge into what should be a Democratic Landslide in 2008. We must put pressure on Jane Harman and other Blue Dogs to stand up and join a Majority Democratic Party to faithfully represent Americans and defend the Constitution and our Country.