Apparently my hearing is worse than I thought. When the House Democratic leadership refused to vote on the Senate’s terrible FISA bill in February, I thought they were saying, "We can’t vote for this because it’s an unconstitutional travesty." But what they were really saying was, "We like the Senate bill okay, and all our cool telecom friends love it, but those crazy bloggers have our constituents all up in arms about telecom amnesty, and everyone hates The Phone Company. We need something a little less… obvious."
Helpful Hoyer heard their cosmetic concerns, and worked with the Republicans and telecom lobbyists to craft a sham "compromise" on immunity. It superficially resembles judicial review, but merely requires the telcos to say that the Bush administration told them that their eavesdropping requests were lawful. God forbid that the courts should examine the actual legality of the requests; apparently no-one was interested in that compromise.
The Democrat leadership and Bush Dog caucus know that their "compromise" is transparent bullshit that fools no-one (and if they didn’t know it before this week, they sure as hell know it now), but it gives them just enough cover to spout legalistic mumbo-jumbo and blow smoke and obfuscate just like Republicans. They can pretend that they’re not really granting immunity, because the telecoms have to run this oh-so-daunting judicial gantlet:
"Did the administration tell you that it was legal for them to eavesdrop on every single registered Democrat in Massachusetts, New York, and California?"
"Yes, Your Honor, they did."
It also releases Chris Dodd from his pledge to filibuster any bill that has telecom immunity in it, because technically this one doesn’t. It has all the ingredients for an EZ-Bake immunity cake, but not the cake itself. I’m hoping that Dodd will still honor the spirit of the pledge rather than the letter, but I’m not counting on it. Nor do I expect that it would make much difference if he did. Not when the party’s own leadership – and presumptive presidential nominee – are so eager to push it through. (Yes, as emptywheel says, Obama will make a show of trying to remove retroactive immunity… but probably not much else.)
As Glennzilla points out, it’s not much of a "compromise" when the progressive base is universally outraged, and the conservative base is universally pleased. This is pretty much the same terrible give-Bush-everything-he-wants bill as the one the Senate passed in February, but with a diaphanous coating of sugar. The only positive thing I can say about this latest Democratic disgrace is that a slim majority of House Democrats voted against their feckless leadership. Yay, team.