Thursday, March 13, 2008

GOP's Blunt hopes to shut the House's doors

GOP's Blunt hopes to shut the House's doors

by James Oliphant, and updated

UPDATE: The House is scheduled to go into closed session tonight at 8 pm to debate FISA. The session will last one hour.

Rep. Roy Blunt, the House's minority whip, wants to get down to the nitty-gritty.

Blunt was pushing the House to meet in a closed session to debate proposed amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

He says he wants the House to meet in private to keep political theater to a minimum -- and perhaps to share some classified information. The last time the House did so was back in 1983.

The battle lines over FISA have been drawn. The White House and congressional Republicans are exhorting House Democrats to support a bill passed last month by the Senate that upgrades FISA, gives the administration expanded surveillance powers, and provides telecom companies with civil immunity from lawsuits over aiding the government's wiretapping efforts.

The House this week floated a new proposal, which would offer some limited immunity and give the telecoms the chance to contest some lawsuits in closed courtrooms. It also would force the Justice Department to get approval from the secret court that oversees surveillance of foreign agents before any new wiretaps are put in place. The Senate version gives Justice officials five days after a tap to obtain approval.

Today, Blunt said:

“[House Democrats] have a bill that actually takes a step back in reaching a bipartisan solution and breaks with many of the areas that were carefully negotiated for months between the intelligence community, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and the White House.

A closed session is necessary today so that every member can hear the compelling and classified reasons for continuing our intelligence programs. Once they do, I am confident they will join our calls for swift action."

The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), today said such a session seemed to be more trouble than it would be worth:

A closed session is something of such seriousness that we would do it in advance, know that you're going to have to clear the chamber for hours before so that it can be swept and what is the purpose of that. And then we have the session for -- we don't know how long, and then again, pushing back. They did this in the Senate too, so they could delay taking up their bill, so it's not a new tactic. But again, if there is some merit to having a closed session that is worth pushing back consideration of the bill, let's hear what their purpose is.

The House currently is debating budget issues, but has scheduled an hour of debate on FISA before it adjourns tomorrow for a two-week spring break.